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Apparent Contradiction of Words and Numbers

Four Witnesses to a 430-year Sojourn in Egypt

Abraham’s Witness to a 430-Year Egyptian Sojourn

Jacob’s Life Requires a 430-Year Egyptian Sojourn

Elasticity of Hebrew Genealogical Terms

Abbreviated/Condensed Genealogies

Shem’s List: The Ultimate Example of Condensing

Shem’s Genealogy—Which Bible?

Evidence from the Lifespan of Job for Missing Generations

Evidence from the Message of Job for Missing Generations

Evidence from the Times of Job for Missing Generations

Biblical Earth Movements After the Flood

Peleg, Joktan and the Table of Nations

Historical Errors Obscuring the Condensing of Shem’s Line

Interpretative Errors Supporting Ussher View

The Missing World between the Flood and Peleg

Recent Scholarship Improves Biblical Understanding

Summary of Biblical Findings

Secular Evidence—Those Many Documents Unavailable to Ussher


Jacob’s Life Requires a 430-Year Egyptian Sojourn

Chapter Four

The record of Jacob’s life is a moving account of divine intervention and growing faith.  It also supports a 430-year Egyptian sojourn.  To make it read otherwise those who elevate numbers over words reinterpret events in his life to make them support their 215-year, no-abbreviated-genealogies view.  In order to see that his life does support 430-years, a careful, in-depth look at the events in his life after the pattern of chapter three is necessary.

When Jacob’s father (Isaac) turned 40, Abraham secured a bride (Rebekah) for him (Genesis 25:21).  After twenty years of barrenness Isaac prayed for her and God granted his prayer.  Miraculously, she became pregnant with twins.  As the fetuses developed a strange thing began to happen.  She sensed a struggling in her womb.  She inquired of the LORD and He said:

Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger.  Genesis 25:23.

The struggle in Rebekah’s womb foretold the future of the twins and their descendants.  There would be strife, not harmony.  There would be two separate nations pursuing their own interests, not family working toward a common goal.  The older would eventually serve the younger.  Rebekah did not learn this from a soothsayer or even second hand from a prophet of God.  No less than God Himself gave this information to her directly in answer to her prayer. 

As to their actual births, of Esau Scripture records “The first came out red, all his body like a hairy cloak.”  Of Jacob, Scripture continues, “afterward his brother came out with his hand holding Esau’s heel” (Genesis 25:26).   The midwives must have been dismayed when the second of the twins immediately followed with his hand holding the heel of the first.  Next, Scripture gives a snapshot of the direction the boys’ lives took:

When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, dwelling in tents.  Genesis 25:27.

In the above verse Scripture immediately advances from their birth to the two as grown men, reporting that the twins grew up to be very different.  Hunting characterized the one, the quiet of home the other.  Of Jacob Unger writes “Jacob preferred the quiet of a home life to the active dangerous career of a hunter.”[1]  So Scripture is extremely brief about their early years.  Just the struggling in the womb, God’s personal explanation and what characterized their adult years.  How different is the story of their father Isaac as Scripture told of his conception, birth, youth and adult years before marrying at the age of 40. 

Scripture does not elaborate on what it meant to be a skillful hunter or a quiet man living in tents.  It only hints at these two pursuits by saying “Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his game, but Rebekah loved Jacob” (Genesis 25:28).  Esau wasn’t just the average hunter; he was “skillful.”  He greatly enhanced the family table with his game.  Because of this he was number one in his father’s books.   Rebekah’s greater concern was the family’s livelihood.  Because Jacob focused on learning and operating the family ranching business, he became number one in her books.  While Esau loved to feel the adrenaline of the hunt, Jacob accepted the discipline of repetitive daily chores.  That daily routine tied him down to a predictable schedule.  These two men couldn’t have been more different. 

Purchasing the Birthright

After explaining the direction of each twin’s life, Scripture discloses just one event in their adult lives before Esau married at the age of 40.  One day Esau returned home from the hunt.  Apparently, he had pressed and pressed without success to the point of exhaustion.  He asked Jacob for a bowl of his stew.  This indicates that the quiet man was there at his typical station, doing something useful to sustain the family, this time cooking.  Here is what happened:

31Jacob said, “Sell me your birthright now.”  32Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?”  33Jacob said, “Swear to me now.”  So he swore to him and sold his birthright to Jacob.  34bThus Esau despised his birthright.  Genesis 25:31-33, 34b.

Birthright?  Where did this come from?  How could Jacob suggest such a thing?  While Scripture condemns Esau’s action, it does not explain what was motivating Jacob.  It assumes the reader would know all that was involved, that grandfather Abraham died when the twins were 15 years old and that he would have told them again and again about God’s appearances to him and the promises those appearances conveyed.  Isaac also had similar personal experiences with God and had witnessed God’s visitations to his father Abraham as well.  These stories were also told over and over in family gatherings.  While Rebekah may have kept secret God’s words to her before the birth of the twins, they must have been aware of at least some of the details of their births and why they were given such unusual names. 

Thus, while Scripture does not elaborate, it seems reasonable that over the years Jacob and Esau wondered about those stories.  Though God’s visitations to his father and grandfather seemed remote, so beyond anything actually happening in their lives, if there was something to them, Jacob wanted to be their recipient.  Eventually Jacob came to place a measure of faith in them and decided to watch for an opportunity to gain the birthright.  Then suddenly the opportunity came.  Esau was famished and wanted something Jacob had.  Jacob made the offer and maybe to his amazement the possessor of the birthright agreed saying “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” (Genesis 25:31). 

Just what was the birthright at this time?  It is worth hearing from a leading Hebrew commentator:

The birthright consisted afterward in a double portion of the father’s inheritance (Deuteronomy 21:17); but with the Patriarchs it embraced the chieftainship, rule over the brethren and the entire family (Genesis 27:29) and the title to the blessing of promise (Genesis 27:4, 27-29), which included the future possession of Canaan and of covenant fellowship with Jehovah (Genesis 28:4).[2]

Possessing this birthright conveyed all God promised to Abraham and Isaac; it was the deed to these promises, but it required faith in the true God.   Scripture pronounces harsh judgment on Esau’s act.  This passage says he despised his birthright.  Hebrews calls him unholy because of selling his birthright for a mere meal (Hebrews 12:16).  Malachi 1:3 gives an overall divine assessment:  “I have loved Jacob, but Esau, I have hated” (Malachi 1:3).  Henry Morris concurs in these assessments:

It is remarkable that so many Christians are quick to defend Esau and rebuke Jacob [trading a meal for the birthright], when God has done neither.  Esau was a profane fornicator, with no redeeming qualities whatsoever, caring nothing about the spiritual significance and responsibilities of the patriarchal birthright, until he thought that its loss might diminish his inherited wealth.[3] (Our words in brackets.)

After the birthright incident nothing more is said of the boys until the end of the next chapter of Genesis.  There Scripture reports Esau got married.  By way of background, when Isaac turned forty, Abraham found him a bride—Rebekah, a granddaughter of Abraham’s older brother Nahor.  Now Esau was 40, yet his father gave no indication of finding him and Jacob mates.  Possibly Esau became convinced his father would do nothing so according to the following verse, before the year was out, the man of action, Esau, married not one but two Canaanite women: 

34When Esau was forty years old, he took Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Basemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite, 35and they made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah.  Genesis 26:34-35.

This action brought Canaanite life with all its evil right into Isaac’s household.  The two Canaanite women made life bitter for both Rebekah and Isaac.  Jacob, seeing their distress, decided to wait for the right woman.  That wait lasted forty more years.  This second report of Esau’s actions conclude how Scripture would have us view Esau at this point in his life, confirming the characterizations  of Genesis 25:34, Hebrews 12:16 and Malachi 1:3. 

The next glimpse of the twins is even more distressing and not without controversy.  When Isaac thought he was dying, he determined to pass on the blessing of the firstborn to Esau, the twin born first.  In view of the words of God to Rebekah and the direction of Esau’s life, Isaac’s plan is unexplainable.  Without question he was badly confused.  But we know what happened.  Rebekah learned of the plan.  She dressed Jacob to impersonate Esau and Isaac unintentionally gave the blessing to Jacob. 

Esau was angry and let it be known that he would kill his brother once his father died.  At that point he would add murder to his list of evils.  Jacob didn’t doubt his older brother’s word and feared for his life.  But sanity prevailed.  Rebekah discussed the situation with Isaac who blessed Jacob and sent him away to the household of his mother’s father in Haran.  He must take a wife from his mother’s people.  He must not marry a Canaanite woman.  Trusting God he departed on the 500-mile journey with only a staff in his hand.  In this way God preserved the Abrahamic line from the abominations of the Canaanites. 

Only a few nights from home 74-year-old Jacob had a dream.  In it he saw the angels of God rushing up and down on a grand staircase as they carried out God’s work on earth.  At the top was God Himself.  He spoke to Jacob, saying He was the God of Abraham and Isaac, that He would give this land to Jacob and his offspring, that his offspring would be like the dust of the earth, that in Jacob and his offspring all the families of the earth would be blessed, that He would keep Jacob and return him to this land (Genesis 28:10-15). 

Nothing more is said of the journey but no sooner had Jacob reached his destination than he was taken with Rachel who was “beautiful in form and appearance” (Genesis 29:17).  Rachel was a daughter of his mother’s brother.  Since her older sister, Leah, was becoming something of an old maid, Rachel might have been considerably older than a teenager.  Jacob offered to serve seven years for her hand in marriage and Laban agreed to the offer.  

A Closer Look at Jacob

Jacob has received much criticism for the actions of his youth.  But are they consistent with God’s revelation?  What do we learn from Scripture?  First, Jacob’s character.  Dr. Morris was distressed to find most commentators characterized Jacob as a crooked man, a heel grabber.  While it cannot be denied he was shrewd, even crafty, he had fine qualities that need to be laid beside his stealth.  Per chance they mitigate and even cast a different light on the broad judgment that he was basically dishonest.  After all, Rahab told a direct lie but no commentator casts her in the light of being a liar.  David committed adultery but no commentator characterizes him as basically immoral.  Other qualities far outshine Rahab’s lie and David’s adultery.  As for Jacob, he was professional, productive, hard-working, likable and God was with him. 

Was he basically dishonest?  It was his mother who all but ordered him to impersonate Esau.  She had great influence on him.  He had even foregone marriage out of his respect for his parents’ feelings and judgment.  His father was apparently about to disregard God’s will and his mother proposed a way to avoid that.  As to her plan, it certainly was dishonest, but the tendency toward dishonesty came mostly from her side of the family.  Her brother was as crooked as they come.  He changed Jacob’s wages countless times to steal what rightly belonged to Jacob.  He gave Jacob Leah after Jacob had served him seven years for Rachel.  So let’s dispense with labeling Jacob “dishonest.”  Instead see him as Scripture begins to speak much of him, beginning with his arrival in the region of Haran.

Now as soon as Jacob saw Rachel the daughter of Laban his mother’s brother, and the sheep of Laban his mother’s brother, Jacob came near and rolled the stone from the well’s mouth and watered the flock of Laban his mother’s brother.  Genesis 29:10.

Notice Jacob’s skill with animals.  Although he was a complete stranger to this flock, Rachel’s sheep immediately sensed they were in good hands, allowing him to water them.  Jacob also understood the sheep business for he had previously noted to the other shepherds that it was high noon and the sheep needed to be grazing, not waiting to be watered.  Then, without help, he removed the cover from the well and watered Rachel’s sheep.  He was not bound by incompetent practices which limited the success of shepherding in that area.  This act displayed initiative, independence, strength, confidence and competence. 

If Jacob acted with professionalism towards this newly encountered flock, his next action showed a soul filled with deep emotion and expectation.  His skill with the sheep was only exceeded by his way with the shepherdess.

11Then Jacob kissed Rachel and wept aloud.  12And Jacob told Rachel that he was her father’s kinsman, and he was Rebekah’s son, and she ran and told her father.  Genesis 29:11-12.

The kiss:  Maybe tender and on the cheek, but arising from deep emotion.  This 74-year-old man bawled aloud.  Just as Abraham’s servant had found his mother immediately upon his arrival 94 years before, Jacob no more arrived than he stumbled on what he must have hoped would be his life’s partner.  Both events happened somewhere near Haran.  She was the right fit—his mother’s niece, his own cousin whom he had never met and probably did not know existed, beautiful, enterprising, engaging and receiving.  What a reward after forsaking his home of 74 years and making a perilous, lonely, 500-mile journey.  The girl’s father invited Jacob to stay with them. 

The next verses tell us Jacob was smart and industrious.  Rather than spending all of his time with Rachel, he immediately set out to impress her father with his work ethic and he succeeded.  A month later Laban uncharacteristically began the following conversation:

Because you are my kinsman, should you therefore serve me for nothing?  Tell me, what shall your wages be?  Genesis 29:15.

Wages?  Here was Jacob’s opportunity.  Jacob wanted Rachel.  He had no money for a dowry but he could work.  He made an offer of service for this daughter of Laban.  He would serve Laban seven years for Rachel and then she would be his.  Next we read:

20So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.  21Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife that I may go in to her, for my time is completed.”  Genesis 29:20-21.

What love it had been that seven years would seem like a few days.  Then Jacob went to Laban and asked for Rachel so he could “go in to her.”  The reason he was asking was that he had completed his seven years of service for her.  “Going in to her” is a euphemism for marital intimacy.  In effect Jacob was saying that he had not violated Rachel’s virginity even though he had been with Laban seven years. 

Jacob Marries the Wrong Woman

Next Scripture reports on the wedding celebration:

22So Laban gathered together all the people of the place and made a feast.  23But in the evening he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob, and he went in to her.  25And in the morning behold, it was Leah!  And Jacob said to Laban, What is this you have done to me?  Did I not serve with you for Rachel?  Why then have you deceived me?”  26Laban said, “It is not so done in our country, to give the younger before the firstborn.”  Genesis 29:22-23, 25-26.

The passage does not say how Laban switched daughters but it clearly states he successfully did.  In the morning Jacob was outraged and accused Laban of deception.  He said, “What is this you have done to me?  Did I not serve with you for Rachel?  Why then have you deceived me?”  (Genesis 29:25).  Clearly Jacob had fulfilled his end of the bargain.  He had served seven years for Rachel.  Laban affirmed it by explaining a previously unmentioned custom, that the oldest daughter had to be married first. 

The Traditional Approach:  Marriage before the Years of Service

Astonishingly, the leading advocate of the 215-year approach, Archbishop James Ussher as well as others to this day say this wedding celebration took place before Jacob had served any of the 14 years.  In complete disregard to the words of the Bible, Ussher offers the following chronology:

1759 BC – Jacob flees from Esau to Haran

1758 BC – Leah bears Reuben

1757 BC – Leah bears Simeon

1756 BC – Leah bears Levi

1755 BC – Leah bears Judah[4]

Ussher’s chronology above shows Jacob to have fathered his firstborn the year following his arrival in Haran.  Since Leah was the mother, by implication both daughters became wives of Jacob at the beginning of his 20-year stay with Laban.  Ussher’s dates show he believed Leah’s first four sons were born just one year apart beginning one year after Jacob’s arrival in Haran.  Why would he and those holding the 215-year view to this day contradict the clear words of Scripture?  The following three reasons are offered; this chapter shows that each is unsound. 

1.      Scripture relates a sequence of births one after another, not several at the same time. 

2.     All the children were born by the time Jacob had been with Laban 14 years because of the six-year work contract

3.     The children had to be several years older than they would be if he worked seven years before receiving his bride(s) because of later events in the life of Jacob. 

Confirming Marriage to Leah; Serving for Rachel

Back to our story.  Laban had a solution:  

27[Laban said], “Complete the week of this one [Leah], and we will give you the other [Rachel] also in return for serving me another seven years.”  28Jacob did so, and completed her [Leah’s] week [of wedding celebration].  Then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel to be his wife.  Genesis 29:27-28.  (Our words in brackets.)

Laban’s solution was that Jacob could have Rachel as well as Leah for seven more years of service.  He only asked that Jacob fulfill the week of wedding celebration with Leah and then he would give Jacob Rachel as well.  The solution seemed straight forward.  Jacob was to complete the very public marriage celebration to the older sister.  There would be no doubt in anyone’s mind that he was married to her.  After the festivities he would be given the younger sister as well and then serve Laban seven more years for the second wife. 

This new offer meant Jacob would continue to celebrate his marriage to Leah for the remaining six days—no public scene denouncing Laban as a deceiver, no cold shoulder to Leah; rather, pleasant, cheerful, celebrating.  Jacob had not planned to be a bigamist.  Both his father and grandfather were one-woman type of men.  For seven years thoughts about Rachel had helped him through each exhausting day.  Her presence lit up his life.  He had no interest in any other woman. 

Jacob was over a barrel.  He wanted Rachel with all his heart.  He would do almost anything for her.  Further he was a decent man and didn’t want to denounce Leah.  Wittingly or not, he had spent the night with her.  Who would want her now?  He was undoubtedly angry and probably confused and he didn’t have the luxury of time to think it over.  Scripture records his decision and Laban’s response: “Jacob did so and completed her week.  Then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel to be his wife” (Genesis 29:28).   So Jacob said “uncle” and soon had twice as many wives as he ever intended.  Nine months later Leah gave Jacob his first son, sealing her status as his wife.

Laban’s plan was a complete success.  His older daughter who had attracted no successful suitor was very publicly wedded to Jacob.  Laban’s honor was intact.  He would have no old maid daughter languishing in his house.  Most likely at least his household knew what he had done but woe to the person who questioned his actions.  This was the power of the family patriarch in his day.

Problem of the Sequence of Children’s Births

The genealogists say the Scripture tells the sequence of the children’s births.  This sequence requires approximately fourteen years.  The only way to find that much time is for Laban to have given his two daughters to Jacob at the beginning of Jacob’s 20-year stay.  We suggest that on occasion, Scripture groups similar events and thoughts before going back over the same time frame to report other events and thoughts.  The following are examples of Scriptural grouping:

  Esau’s genealogy is inserted between the death of Isaac and Joseph’s story.  Genesis 35 ends with the death of Isaac.  Genesis 36 chronicles 500 years of Jacob’s twin brother’s line.   Genesis 37:1 actually backtracks to events before Isaac’s death.  Thus 500 years of Edomite history are inserted in the middle of the Jacob/Joseph narrative. 

 Genesis 2:5 returns to day six of creation week after Genesis 1:1-2:3 reports the full seven days.  The sons of Japheth are listed in Genesis 10:2-5, then the descendants of Ham (10:6-20) and finally the descendants of Shem (10:21-31).  No one would dispute that division of history, but Genesis 10 would be very confusing if it reported each birth as it happened.  Genesis 11:27-32 reports the record of Terah before taking up God’s dealing with Abraham which reaches back to his call in Ur (Genesis 12-24) 15 years before.  Genesis 35:28-29 reports the death of Isaac even though it happened 13 years after the selling of Joseph in Genesis 37.

Similarly, we believe that because several mothers were expecting at the same time and therefore births overlapped, the writer chose to group the births of Jacob’s children:  Leah’s first four, then Bilhah’s two, then Zilpah’s two, then Leah’s final three and lastly Rachel’s son.  Because of overlapping pregnancies, at least twelve children were born in just 10 years.

Twelve Recorded Births in Ten Years

Over the next ten years Jacob fathered eleven sons plus a daughter.  But the other side can only see seven years available for these 12 children if Jacob served seven years before he received two wives and then six years for the cattle.  Thus they manipulate Scripture to make more time.  We will see that ten years were available and that ten years was sufficient.  But first, we must acknowledge that this was the work of God.  The odds of having eleven sons in a row are enormous.  God was behind all this and the goal was our salvation, Jesus Christ, Jacob’s ultimate seed and the defeat of Satan.  Scripture does not tell us all the details of the scenario God used.  Because some insist it was impossible, we suggest one scenario that is entirely consistent with Scripture.  While the following is speculative, it honors Scripture.

When the week of celebrating Jacob’s marriage to Leah was over, Laban quietly gave Jacob his younger daughter as well.  Jacob immediately transferred to Rachel’s bedroom and spent nearly all of his time there for the next 13 years.  At first possibly this was a family secret but in time it simply became accepted as the way things were.  This transfer of bedrooms is apparent from the names Leah chose for her six boys and the mandrake event.  She called her firstborn Reuben “Because,” she said, “the LORD has looked upon my affliction; for now my husband will love me.”  (Genesis 29:32).  How was she afflicted?  How was she unloved?  Her husband paid her no attention.  He spent his nights in Rachel’s tent.  Score: Leah-1; Rachel-0.  Elapsed time:  9 months since the week celebrating the marriage of Leah to Jacob.

Jacob knew about conception.  Animal breeding was his life.  To say he was a successful animal breeder would be an understatement.  He became wealthy through his breeding skills.  In the next few years Jacob discovered that Leah was a virtual baby machine, and sons at that!  Leah would deliver a son and six months later she would conceive again—spacing boys about 15 months apart.  Rachel had not conceived in nine months while Leah conceived that very first week.  So about 6 months after Leah’s first delivery, Jacob began visiting her bedroom until she became pregnant again.  But then he went back to Rachel.  Scripture tells us as much.  Leah named her second son Simeon “Because the LORD has heard that I am hated.”  (Genesis 29:33).  Hated?  Yes.  Her husband spent his nights with Rachel, not with Leah.  Score: Leah-2; Rachel-0.  Elapsed time:  24 months since the marriage (9+6+9=24).

About 6 months after Leah’s second delivery, Jacob returned and soon she was expecting a third time.  A total of 30 months had elapsed (9 + 6 + 9 + 6 = 30).  This may have been when a new development unfolded.   Rachel engaged Jacob in a heated argument.  She demanded he make her pregnant.  He said he was not God.  Well, if he couldn’t make her pregnant, he must give her a child by her handmaid, Bilhah.  Jacob must have thought, “Is a third wife the price of peace?”  With that, Bilhah conceived and behold, another boy.  This son was born shortly after Leah’s third.  Score:  Leah-3; Rachel-1.  Elapsed time since Jacob’s marriage: 42 months (30 + 9 + 3 = 42).

Six months after her third delivery, Leah became pregnant a fourth time.  About three months later, Bilhah became pregnant with her second.  So fifty-four months after her marriage, Leah mothered a fourth son (9 + 15 + 15 + 15 = 54) while Bilhah delivered her second son three months later.   For the first time Leah did not complain about her husband’s absence.  Instead, she said, “This time I will praise the Lord.” (Genesis 29:35).  Score:  Leah-4; Rachel-2; Elapsed time since Jacob’s marriage:  57 months (54 + 3 = 57).  Jacob now fathered six sons in just four and three-quarter years. 

When Leah didn’t get pregnant as she usually did about six months after the birth of her fourth son, she became uneasy.  Maybe Bilhah became pregnant for a third time which would later prove to be a girl, but Leah would not know it at the time.  Leah must have fretted, “Rachel is catching up!  I must do something.  Rachel enlisted her handmaid.  I’ll do the same with my handmaid Zilpah.”  As to Laban’s thoughts on the matter, he was already bragging to his men friends: “You hear?  Six grandsons in less than five years.  Isn’t that a record?” 

At the same time Jacob may have been thinking, “God, you said, ‘Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.’  (Genesis 28:14).  God, I had no idea, but if this is how, so be it.”  So when Leah offered her handmaid, Jacob went for broke.  Nine months later Zilpah delivered a son.  Score:  Leah-5; Rachel-2 (plus possibly a girl from Bilhah).  Elapsed time:  72 months or six years (57 + 6 + 9 = 72).

Six months after the birth of Zilpah’s first son, Jacob came again and Zilpah became pregnant with a second son.  When she delivered him nine months later, Leah named him Asher which connotes happiness.  This indicates Leah was not displeased that her husband had fathered two sons through her handmaid.  Score:  Leah-6; Rachel-2.  Elapsed time: 87 months or 7 years and three months (72 + 15 = 87).

Genesis 30:14 reports that little Reuben came in from the field with mandrakes (love apples—thought to help in conceiving).  Rachel asked Leah for some.  Apparently Jacob had given up on Rachel conceiving even though he still shared her bed.  As for Leah, Jacob hadn’t come to her tent for nearly a year and a half (the last time was six months after the birth of her fourth son when she did not conceive).  Leah struck the following bargain:

15But she [Leah] said to her, “Is it a small matter that you have taken away my husband?  Would you take away my son’s mandrakes also?”  Rachel said, “Then he may lie with you tonight in exchange for your son’s mandrakes.”  16When Jacob came from the field in the evening, Leah went out to meet him and said, “You must come in to me, for I have hired you with my son’s mandrakes.”  So he lay with her that night.  17And God listened to Leah, and she conceived and bore Jacob a fifth son.  Genesis 30:15-17.

Here we read that Leah had to hire her husband for a single night some seven years and four sons after they were married!  Clearly, Jacob did not divide his time between Leah and Rachel.  Leah who hoped for the attention of her husband came to derive happiness from her sons and from the Lord who answered her prayer for a fifth son.  Maybe Jacob was still blind to her worth, but who cared when the hugs of little boys never ceased, and grandfather Laban swelled with pride.

Note that Scripture does not indicate that Leah’s fifth pregnancy followed Zilpah’s second pregnancy.  Rather, Scripture groups Zilpah’s two pregnancies together just as it grouped Bilhah’s two pregnancies together.  We suggest that Leah rested for two years after the birth of Judah and then became pregnant for the fifth time when Jacob visited her tent for a single night six and a half years after their marriage.  Fifteen months later Jacob visited again and Leah became pregnant with her sixth son.  Fifteen months later Jacob visited again and Leah became pregnant with her first daughter. 

To summarize, Rachel’s handmaid carried sons during Leah’s 3rd and 4th pregnancies while Leah’s handmaid carried pregnancies towards the end of Leah’s 24 month resting period and again during her fifth pregnancy.  Rachel delivered Joseph shortly before Leah’s first daughter was born, maybe three months before.    By this scenario, the total time involved from Jacob’s week-long marriage celebration to Leah to the birth of Dinah was 117 months (9 + 3 15 + 24 + 9 + 2 15 = 117)[5].  117 months is nine years and nine months.  Final score:  eight sons and one daughter for Leah’s team; three sons and an unreported number of daughters for Rachel’s team.

Rachel also learned to look to God rather than Jacob during this time: 

22Then God remembered Rachel and God listened to her and opened her womb.  23She conceived and bore a son and said, “God has taken away my reproach.”  24And she called his name Joseph, saying, “May the LORD add to me another son!”  Genesis 30:22-24.

The paragraph before the birth of Joseph concludes with “Afterward she (Leah) bore a daughter and called her name Dinah.”  (Genesis 30:21).  The writer grouped Leah’s last three births together, but indicated that Joseph’s birth came before Dinah’s birth.  In this way all of the children were born within the birthing years of Leah.  This is not the only scenario that could be devised, but whichever one it was, Scripture says it was successful.   Who is man to change what God said happened?

The scenario we use places Joseph’s birth at 114 months (9.5 years) after Jacob received his two wives.  When Joseph was born is the key to the age of Jacob and his children.  Jacob was 130 when he appeared before Pharaoh (Genesis 47:9) and Joseph was 39.  [Joseph was elevated at the age of 30 (Genesis 41:46) and officiated over seven years of plenty and two years of famine when he stood with his father before pharaoh (30 + 7 + 2 = 39)].  Therefore, Joseph was born when Jacob was 91 (130 - 39 = 91).  We suggest that about three and a half years later Jacob returned to Canaan and was 94.5 years old.  Thus, he arrived in Haran at the age of 74 and was married at the age of 81 (74 + 7 = 81).  Since Scripture doesn’t work with fractions of a year, we need to work with the whole number of departing Haran at the age of 94.

In summary, this is our view: Jacob served Laban seven years, then married Leah and Rachel and fathered at least twelve children in the next ten years.  Sadly, the numbers-over-words approach is that more years were needed and concluded Laban gave his two daughters to Jacob shortly after he first arrived.  Thus, by silence in the case of Ussher in The Annals of the World, and through explaining Scripture away in the case of his modern counterparts, inerrancy is violated.  Where is faith in all this?  Inerrancy requires us to accept what God has clearly said, not follow our own reasoning.  Unfortunately, the inerrancy view continues to be rejected to this day.

However, first an observation is in order.  Early Bible history emphasizes sons.  The genealogies from Adam to Noah and from Seth to Abraham are records of sons begetting sons.  Some fathers had multiple wives.  No lines are recorded in terms of daughters begetting daughters; wives having multiple husbands is likewise unrecorded.  When Jacob fled from Laban, Genesis 31:17 reports, “So Jacob arose and set his sons and his wives on camels.”  Yet when Jacob moved his people to Egypt, Genesis 46:5-7 says, “Then Jacob set out from Beersheba...  and came into Egypt, Jacob and all his offspring with him, his sons and his sons’ sons, his daughters, and his sons’ daughters….”

“Daughters” is plural, yet only Dinah is said to have been born to him in all his years.  Because of the emphasis on “sons,” it is possible that the handmaids of Leah and Rachel bore unnamed daughters to Jacob either before or after he left Haran.  Since the Scripture is silent about when one or more other daughters were born to Jacob, we need to be aware that possibly during the birth of the eleven sons in Haran, one or more other daughters were also born to him. 

This point is essential because some interpreters state dogmatically what Scripture does not actually say.  In honoring the principle of inerrancy, we must diligently stand where Scripture stands and be tentative where Scripture is silent.  This principle will become particularly important as we look at individual genealogies later on.

Problem of the Timing of Jacob’s Contract

The 215-year people also say Jacob’s wages supports their view, with the following line of thinking.  Jacob requested being sent away as soon as his eleventh son, Joseph, was born.  Laban urged Jacob to stay with him and offered to let him name his wages.  Since Jacob later said he served 14 years for Laban’s two daughters and six years for Laban’s flock, the standard approach jumps to the conclusion that this request and Joseph’s birth occurred 14 years after Jacob joined Laban and six years before he departed from Laban.  We will show that there were multiple wage contracts and clearly, this was not the one that began the final six years, thus invalidating their argument.

The relevant Scripture is found in Genesis 30-31:

25As soon as Rachel had borne Joseph, Jacob said to Laban, “Send me away, that I may go to my own home and country.  26Give me my wives and my children for whom I have served you, that I may go, for you know the service that I have given you.  27But Laban said to him, “[stay with me] ….  28Name your wages…”  Genesis 30:25-28.

[Jacob said] “These twenty years I have been in your house.  I served you fourteen years for your two daughters, and six years for your flock, and you have changed my wages ten times.”  Genesis 31:41.

While their logic seems plausible, nowhere does Scripture say Joseph was born at the end of the fourteen years.  Neither does it say that this labor contract began the six years for the flock. But it does quote Jacob twice saying that Laban changed his wages ten times (to his wives in 31:7 and to Laban in 31:41).  Eleven contracts?  Once a search is made for evidence of changed wages and Jacob’s claim is justified, we will realize that Ussher and followers commit the logical fallacies of jumping to conclusions and arguing from silence.  So, when was the first agreement made?  The last?  And what about the one that is recorded? 

We suggest that various informal arrangements were made and then broken by Laban before the most important one, the one that is recorded.  Some were made even before the fourteen years were completed.  This is suggested by Jacob’s later angry response to Laban:

38These twenty years I have been with you.  Your ewes and your female goats have not miscarried, and I have not eaten the rams of your flocks.  39What was torn by wild beasts I did not bring to you.  I bore the loss of it myself.  From my hand you required it, whether stolen by day or stolen by night.  40There I was: by day the heat consumed me, and the cold by night, and my sleep fled from my eyes.  Genesis 31:38-40.

How could Jacob bear the loss?  How could it be required of his hand if he had no sheep or goats of his own to pay with before those final six years?  Females were kept to multiply the flock while males were eaten, but Jacob, in spite of having a growing household, ate none of Laban’s goats.  Only if Laban paid Jacob with animals or allowed Jacob to begin building a flock of his own during those fourteen years could he feed his family and repay Laban for animals that had been torn or stolen.

At the fourteen-year mile stone a more formal arrangement was made so he could begin to acquire camels and cows as well as flocks.  While Scripture does not record this agreement, it alludes to such an arrangement with the words about serving six years for the flocks.  But when Laban saw Jacob truly prospering, he would have repeated his practice of changing Jacob’s wages time and again. 

Wage Agreement Reported in Scripture

Finally when Joseph was born, Jacob became very assertive and said to Laban “Send me away.”  This time Laban, fearing he was about to lose Jacob, let Jacob name his wages and Jacob stayed on.  This is the wage arrangement reported in Genesis 30: 25-28.  It happened just after the birth of Joseph.  Dinah was born several months later.  If the final six years were a rounded number and the actual duration were six years and three months, Jacob would have left Laban three and a half years after Dinah’s birth (according to our proposed scenario).   When Jacob did leave, he left with an enormous number of healthy, young animals.  Jacob’s practices did not produce this bounty.  It came from God who provided both his enormous herds and his sons.

Why was Laban desperate to retain Jacob’s services?  He himself said, “The LORD has blessed me because of you” (30:27).  Jacob states this even more strongly: “For you had little before I came, and it has increased abundantly, and the LORD has blessed you wherever I turned” (30:30).  Jacob’s service increased Laban’s wealth from “little” to “abundant.”

This recorded agreement was to begin by Jacob passing through all Laban’s flock and removing “every speckled, and spotted sheep and every black lamb, and the spotted and speckled among the goats” (Genesis 30:32) for himself.  What actually happened?  Somehow Laban distracted Jacob or took advantage of Jacob’s work schedule and while Jacob was busy with other things, Laban with his sons rushed out and removed all such sheep and goats and sent them far away with his sons so Jacob would never get any of them back.  Laban violated that contract before the ink was dry. 

On average sheep produce lambs once a year although they can bear in both the spring and fall.  Three years is about the minimum time to replace most of Laban’s black and white animals with striped and spotted animals by normal births, but with the hand of God guiding the genetics the process was miraculously shrunk into the available time.

God Overrules Laban’s Wage Changes

Jacob tells Rachel and Leah about two other changes to his wages after the agreement recorded in Scripture: “If he (Laban) said, ‘The spotted shall be your wages,’ then all the flock bore spotted” (31:8).  In other words, when Laban saw that all (or most of) of the kids were striped, mottled or spotted which he originally said would be Jacob’s wages, he reneged, limiting Jacob’s wages to just those with spots.  Jacob continued: “if he said, ‘The striped shall be your wages’, then all the flock bore striped.”  In other words, when Laban saw all the kids were spotted, he changed the wages to those kids with stripes and the next time around, all the kids were striped.  Every time Laban changed Jacob’s wages, the flocks bred in Jacob’s favor!  Jacob realized that God was doing this: “But God did not permit him to harm me” (31:7).  God was overruling Laban’s changes.  “Thus” (Jacob concluded) “God has taken away the livestock of your father and given them to me.”  (31:8-9).

Even more evidence for the wage changing game comes in the form of a dream God gave Jacob.  He told Rachel and Leah, “The angel of God said to me in the dream, ‘Jacob,’ and I said, ‘Here I am!’  And he said, ‘Lift up your eyes and see, all the goats that mate with the flock are striped, spotted, and mottled, for I have seen all that Laban is doing to you’”  (31:11-12).  What was God’s point?  In the field all mating goats that were not completely black had been removed and set aside.  But in the dream, all the remaining mating goats, the ones belonging to Laban, were also multicolored, thus insuring their kids would be multicolored and thus belong to Jacob.  Jacob would understand the same thing to be true of the flocks of sheep. 

Laban should have known that he couldn’t cheat God.  God would simply have all the kids and lambs marked with Laban’s most recent wage change.  When Jacob told Rachel and Leah his dream, they agreed with Jacob that they should move to Canaan, concluding that their father was cheating them out of what was rightfully theirs:

14Is there any portion or inheritance left to us in our father’s house?  15Are we not regarded by him as foreigners?  For he has sold us, and he has indeed devoured our money.  16All the wealth that God has taken away from our father belongs to us and to our children.  Genesis 31:14-16. 

Time for Jacob to Leave

Sheep were sheared before the hot summer but after spring lambing.  It could be this master contract was negotiated before spring birthing and shearing, allowing Jacob to accumulate his animals over four birthing seasons, even though only 3 ½ years passed.  Thus, when he left, most of his oldest animals were just over three years old and the youngest had been born within the previous three months. 

Maybe this is why Laban removed the multicolored animals for himself once he realized that the animals had already mated the previous fall.  The possibility of four birthing seasons would answer any who might maintain that Laban’s flocks couldn’t be transferred to Jacob in just three birthing seasons.  As previously pointed out, the six years and twenty years are round numbers.  The six years could be 6 ¼ years.  The twenty years could be 20 ¼ years.  Leah’s daughter could have been born 9 ¾ years after Jacob received his wives.  This number would provide 3 ½ years from this master contract until Jacob departed.  In that case it could have involved four mating seasons and four birthing seasons.

As God increased Jacob’s wealth, Jacob heard that the sons of Laban were saying, “Jacob has taken all that was our father’s” (Genesis 31:1).  Further, Jacob saw “that Laban did not regard him with favor as before” (Genesis 31:2).  An alarming number of Laban’s animals had become Jacob’s.  He was no longer their workhorse, multiplying their wealth.  Jacob attributed the deed to God: “God has taken away the livestock of your father and given them to me” (Genesis 31:9).  But jealousy was replacing their approval of Jacob.   Jealousy can be deadly.  Jacob was in danger.  At this point God told Jacob to return to his homeland (Genesis 31:3). 

But how could he leave?  For twenty years Jacob had seen Laban’s highhandedness.  He believed Laban would never let him return to Canaan with his family and wealth.  Both he and Laban said as much.  Laban later said, “You have driven away my daughters like captives…” Laban called Jacob’s children “my sons and my daughters...” (Genesis 31:26, 28).  They didn’t belong to Jacob, they belonged to him and as head of the household, he intended to keep what was his.  Further, he would threaten, “It is in my power to do you harm” (Genesis 31:29).  Jacob would reply, “If the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had not been on my side, surely now you would have sent me away empty-handed” (Genesis 31:42).  This was the power of the patriarch.  Laban could allow Jacob to go out with his family and wealth or let him leave empty-handed.  Jacob had no choice but to flee secretly.  Laban pursued and overtook Jacob.  God intervened.  Jacob was able to keep his family and newly formed wealth.

Counting Jacob’s Wealth

How much had God given Jacob?  How many animals did Jacob have to move?  Genesis 30:43 reports that Jacob “increased greatly and had large flocks, female servants and male servants, and camels and donkeys.”  In Genesis 32:5 he sent the following word to Esau: “I have oxen, donkeys, flocks, male servants and female servants.”  He gave the following present to his brother Esau:

14two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, 15thirty milking camels and their calves, forty cows and ten bulls, twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys.  Genesis 32:14-15.

Jacob’s gift amounted to 550 animals plus calves.  At Bethel twenty years before, Jacob had promised God a tenth if God brought him back home (Genesis 28:22-22).  If this was that tenth, he possessed over 5000 animals which was nearly half as many animals as Job had before Satan’s attack.  Yet most of Jacob’s were acquired in just a few years!  Indeed, only God could have provided such increase.

Jacob’s Escape: How Do the Numbers Work Out?

Multiplying Jacob’s livestock was one thing.  Returning them to the home of his father was another.  How did Jacob do it?  Here is a possible scenario:  Jacob’s nursing flocks could cover ten miles at most in a day without injury.  It was about 500 land miles to his father in Hebron and almost 400 miles to the hill country of Gilead where Jacob thought he might be safe.  Yet it was there that Laban and his kinsmen overtook Jacob.  How could Jacob have gotten so far in such a short time?  Or did he have more time?  Scripture sometimes summarizes an event that involved much more than is stated as we shall shortly see. 

But first, Jacob’s escape and Laban’s pursuit:

17So Jacob arose and set his sons and his wives on camels.  18He drove away all his livestock, all his property that he had gained, the livestock in his possession that he had acquired in Paddan-aram, to go to the land of Canaan to his father Isaac....  21He fled with all that he had and arose and crossed the Euphrates, and set his face toward the hill country of Gilead.  22When it was told Laban on the third day that Jacob had fled, 23He took his kinsmen with him and pursued him [Jacob] for seven days and followed close after him into the hill country of Gilead.  Genesis 31:17-18, 21-23.

Three critical details are disclosed in these verses.  First, he had camels for transportation which meant speed and endurance.  Second, he had to cross the Euphrates which was the major barrier between Haran and Hebron.  Third, his goal was to reach the hill country of Gilead. 

The Route to Home

The standard trade route from Haran to Egypt involved crossing the Euphrates River at the last down river place it could be forded on foot—the ancient city of Carchemish, 65 miles due west of Haran.  From the story of Joseph being sold by his brothers, we learn that shepherds took their flocks many miles to find pasture.  Jacob would surely have located his flocks in the direction of the escape route.  From Carchemish the trade route went southwest for 80 miles to Aleppo and then south another 35 to Ebla.  The trade route continued directly south for another 170 miles to Damascus.  Seventy-five miles beyond Damascus one reached the hill country of Gilead which was directly east of the Sea of Galilee in the Jordan Rift Valley.

However, determining specifics are difficult since at least three unknowns are involved in Jacob’s return home.  First, we only know the general area of Laban’s ranch—Paddan-aram and Haran.  Paddan-aram was a region while Haran was the major supply center on the trade route.  The ranch could have been 20-30 miles from Haran.  Second, we do not know for sure that Jacob crossed at the common fording of Carchemish.  While that was the normal fording point a millennium later, the river could have changed much between Jacob’s day and when better records were kept later.  Third, we do not know where along the hills of Gilead Laban finally overtook Jacob.  Four hundred years later that area was given to two and a half of Israel’s twelve tribes.  At that time, it was generally to the east of the Sea of Galilee.  But it is possible that in Jacob’s day the area nominally extended north for a distance.  Thus, our best effort is an estimated 400 miles from Laban’s ranch to the point where he overtook Jacob.

When God told Jacob to return home He added, “I will be with you” (Genesis 31:3).  Jacob would have divine protection.  Nevertheless, Jacob had to plan his escape carefully.  He waited until Laban would be shearing his sheep several days journey away from the ranch.  He sent for his wives (possibly as Laban was setting out) to join him for a secret meeting in the fields.  Laban’s household must not know.  Jacob made his case for fleeing.  Once his wives consented each began the extensive preparations for the journey (keeping their secret from Laban’s people). 

Moving Sheep and Goats

Jacob’s first concern would be to get the sheep and goats moving because with nursing young they could hardly do ten miles a day.  Cattle are good for twice that while camels can be used for rapid travel.  Since Scripture states that Laban overtook Jacob in the hills of Gilead after a seven-day pursuit and this appears to have been nearly 400 miles, the flocks must have been on the road at least 40 days.  So how does this work? 

Once Jacob secured his wives agreement to leave Laban, he would have worked at getting the flocks across the Euphrates.  This means he would have accompanied the shepherds for this most difficult task.  If his flocks were already grazing a three days’ journey west of Laban’s ranch, he would have spent most of a week getting them to and safely across the Euphrates.  He would not be missed at the ranch as he was often in the fields with the flocks for periods of time. 

Today, for several miles near Carchemish the Euphrates divides into two channels with an island between the channels.  Possibly at one place one could wade across the first channel, then find a shallow part of the second channel somewhere else to wade across.  We don’t know.  Only the Scripture makes a point of saying that Jacob got all he had across the Euphrates. 

Then he would cover the distance back to the ranch in two days to get his herds on the trail.  This may have taken another week.  By then the sheep and goats, divided into many flocks, would be 160 miles from the ranch (7 + 2 + 7 = 16 days).  Then Jacob would continue his plans to flee with his remaining household—wives, children, kindred and servants—closing out their lives in Haran and preparing for the long, perilous journey ahead.  Possibly a trusted servant had been moving back and forth between the flocks, herds and ranch (on camel back) while Jacob’s household prepared.  By one excuse or another to Laban’s people he may have been able to send off donkey trains of possessions during that week.  When they were ready, possibly a week or so after the cattle left, Jacob’s wives must have said their goodbyes.  With that Jacob put his family on camels and his household moved out.  Laban’s people sent a runner to tell Laban.  By this time the sheep would be 230 miles away (16 + 7 = 23 days). 

Camels were the finest all-around transportation in this part of the ancient world.  In a caravan with heavy loads, they typically covered 25 miles a day or three miles an hour.  They actually could walk all day at four miles an hour, but to conserve their energy, the drivers walked rather than rode.  This slowed the caravan down to the pace and endurance of the drivers.  Camels had been known to travel a hundred miles a day when employed for military purposes.

Laban’s Pursuit

On the third day Laban received word that Jacob had fled.  Laban was shearing sheep.  For Laban to take action, he first arranged care for the sheep being sheared, then made the three-day journey back to the ranch and then organized an armed pursuit party on camels.  Jacob would have about a ten-day head start but that would not alarm Laban since the sheep with recently born lambs could only travel ten miles a day at most.  What Laban had not counted on was that Jacob had sent the sheep ahead before returning to the ranch.  By the time Laban was ready to pursue, the sheep were on the trail the equivalent of 33 days, 330 miles from Haran (23 + 3 +2 +3 + 2 = 33 days).  Meanwhile the herds had been on the trail 17 days so they would soon catch up with the flocks.  Jacob and family had been on the trail ten days and were a good 250-300 miles from Haran.  With camels they would soon catch up with the flocks, herds and donkey trains.

Scripture says it took Laban seven days to overtake Jacob.  Just days before, Jacob’s cattle, donkeys and camels had all caught up with his flocks and they were now in the hill country of Gilead, 400 miles from Haran.  Just as Jacob thought he was safe, Laban and his band appeared.  While Laban had expected to find them just 170 miles from his ranch, it probably did not take him long to learn they were a great distance ahead of him so he would have gone into a forced day and night march.  Even so for Laban to cover 400 miles in seven days, his camel army would have had to cover a punishing 55 miles a day.  What an amazing flight on Jacob’s part.  What an amazing pursuit on Laban’s part. 

Nevertheless, it was not that Jacob had reached familiar ground that protected him but none other than God Himself who appeared to Laban in a dream and warned him not to harm Jacob.  In the end Laban and Jacob covenanted not to cross into each other’s lands for harm.  Laban kissed his grandchildren and daughters and returned home.  Again, the angels of God appeared to Jacob.  (Genesis 32:1).  God was doing as He had originally promised at Bethel. 

Esau Advances with 400 Men

Then Jacob learned that his twin brother Esau was coming with a small army.  He sent everyone ahead and was left alone.  Yet he was not alone.  He wrestled all night.  The struggle was both spiritual and physical.  “Wrestling” suggests a night of fervent prayer.  Yet he sustained a lifetime physical injury.  In the end his opponent said “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.”  (Genesis 32:28).  The new name has the connotation of power with God.  Following this Jacob said, “I have seen God face to face and yet my life has been delivered” (Genesis 32:30).  Jacob had encountered the preincarnate Christ. 

Esau and his 400 men arrived.  It looked like the end.  Instead, “Esau ran to meet him and embraced him and fell on his neck, and kissed him, and they wept” (Genesis 33:4).  Of this Jacob said: “I have seen your face, which is like seeing the face of God, and you have accepted me” (Genesis 33:10).  Each visitation from God strengthened Jacob’s faith. 


Dinah’s Humiliation

Instead of returning to his father in Hebron, for some unexplained reason over the next 12 years Jacob first built a house in Succoth, then bought land and settled in Shechem.  There his daughter Dinah “went out to see the women of the land” (Genesis 34:1).   Dinah was now old enough to socialize with the village women.  The text does not mention an escort.  Genesis 34:2 continues: “When Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, the prince of the land, saw her, he seized her and lay with her and humiliated her.”  Having eleven older brothers she was used to receiving a lot of attention from boys and undoubtedly knew how to give and take a lot of innocent playfulness.  Whatever he saw attracted him like a fly to flypaper.  Then he lost control. 

At the least we can observe that Dinah acted indiscreetly.  “Going out to see the women” suggests inexperience, an enlarging of her world.  In all this visiting she must have met Shechem.  She was poised, self-confident, a talker and playful.  Maybe Shechem misinterpreted her innocent fun for something more.  We have suggested she was fifteen years old.  If she were older, she would know more about men outside of her family and be more careful.  If she were much younger, she would be less desired as his wife.  At fifteen she was a grown woman capable of marriage and suitable as a mate for the young prince.  Fifteen fits the Scriptural chronology.

Dinah had six natural older brothers while Jacob’s other five sons were her step-brothers.  Her oldest natural brother and Jacob’s first was Reuben.  He was ten years older than her.  Her brothers were beyond indignant.  Shechem loved Dinah and asked his father to get her for his wife.  When Shechem’s father asked Jacob to let his daughter marry his son, he said the two peoples could become one.  Jacob’s sons said the Hivites would have to be circumcised first.  So, all the men of the village were circumcised.  Then two of Dinah’s natural brothers came and murdered all the men when they were in the most pain.  These brothers, Simeon and Levi, were 23 and 22, eight and seven years older than Dinah. 

Thinking the sons had to be older, people ask, “How could just two young men kill all the men in an entire village?”  First, they came on the third day when the men were sore.  Intense pain can incapacitate.  The village men had no strength to fight back.  Second, this question reinforces an earlier suggestion in this paper, that Abraham had gained military training in Ur.  When he left Ur, he trained every able-bodied male in his household in the art of defense.  When the Jordan Valley was invaded and Lot was taken prisoner, Abraham “led forth his trained men, born in his house, 318 of them…” and with allies, completely vanquished an experienced, professional army (Genesis 14:14).  That a 23- and 22-year-old could put an entire village to the sword suggests Jacob also trained his sons in the use of the sword.  Today 23- and 22-year-old college football players display the kind of strength and determination that Jacob’s sons displayed.  The other side sees the need for the sons to be seven years older, but they didn’t need to be 30 and 29 to wreak this havoc on the village.

While the slaughter at Shechem possibly doubled Jacob’s wealth, his focus was on his and his family’s survival.  He was angry and terrified expecting revenge from the Shechemites’ fellow Canaanites.  Little did he know that God would command Israel to destroy the entire Canaanite population five hundred years later.  Could it be that the act of Simeon and Levi was divine judgment to break the hold of paganism on its surviving residents (over half of its population) and give them the opportunity to meet the true God and receive eternal life? 

Returning to Bethel, the “House of God”

After Simeon and Levi slaughtered the adult males of the village, Jacob’s sons plundered what was left.  Further, they took the wives and children.  Jacob was appalled at his sons’ actions.  He said to Simeon and Levi, “You have brought trouble on me by making me stink to the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites and the Perizzites.  My numbers are few, and if they gather themselves against me and attack me, I shall be destroyed, both I and my household” (Genesis 34:30).  Jacob must have cried out to God because we next read “God said to Jacob, ‘Arise, go up to Bethel [Hebrew: beth-house; el-God; thus “house of God”] and dwell there.  Make an altar there to the God who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau’” (Genesis 35:1).  God said to “dwell there,” not “stop there” or “visit there.”  HB finds he lived there for at least two years, until Joseph reached the age of 17, and possibly as many as three. 

Bethel would be a place of refreshment after years of stress and trouble.  Jacob would find peace and quiet in the House of God.  He told his household and all who were with him, “Put away the foreign gods that are among you and purify yourselves and change your garments.  Then let us arise and go up to Bethel, so that I may make there an altar to the God who answers me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone” (Genesis 35:2-3).  With him were his household plus many new faces--all those in the plunder of Shechem for Scripture previously reported: “They (Jacob’s sons) took their (Shechem’s) flocks and their herds, their donkeys, and whatever was in the city and in the field.  All their wealth, all their little ones and their wives, all that was in the houses, they captured and plundered” (34:28-29). 

Everyone with him was to put away their false gods, follow rites of cleansing and change their clothes in preparation for meeting the LORD.  Jacob buried the instruments of idolatry near Shechem and left for Bethel (Genesis 35:4).  Along the way the Canaanites did not attack them.  Instead “a terror from God fell upon the cities that were around them, so that they did not pursue the sons of Jacob” (Genesis 35:6).  At Bethel he built an altar which indicates animal sacrifice and worship.  The women and children of Shechem had been the pitiful victims of idolatry.  Here they learned about the true God.  He must be approached through the blood of a sacrifice as man had done since the time of Abel.  Each Old Testament sacrifice anticipated the ultimate and final sacrifice, that of Jesus Christ on the cross.  Certainly, many of these newcomers believed in the true God and entered His Kingdom that day. 

Bethel was where God had first repeated to Jacob the promises of people and land He had given to Abraham and Isaac.  In addition, God had promised that Jacob would return to this place.  Now Jacob was again in this place.  God had kept His promise.  But not only had Jacob returned to this place, he had returned with a vast household and great wealth. 

For the sake of continuity, Scripture next records God’s second appearance to Jacob at Bethel.  Then it continues with his journey back to Isaac, relating the death of Rachel near Bethlehem.  Finally, Jacob reached Hebron.  Scripture closes this portion with the death of Isaac.  In the next section Scripture relates Joseph’s rise in Egypt and Judah’s family, both essential developments to Israel’s becoming a nation and continuing the line of Christ. 

HB seeks to show that the dates of Scripture provide a sound chronology without changing what Scripture says.  For this reason, the events that happened in Bethel are grouped together in HB before the return to Hebron.  Scripture gives at least three clues for this sequence: Joseph was 17 when his brothers sold him; Judah’s marriage occurred “at this time;” and Jacob built a pillar, which was sometime after he built the altar when he first arrived.  Each of these clues could consume considerable space, but HB will give them briefly and let the reader fill in the details. 

Joseph-17 years old.  He and Dinah were 15 when Dinah was violated in Shechem and God told Jacob to go to Bethel and live there.  Joseph was brilliant.  Because Jacob was worn out, he began using Joseph to report on his brothers’ management of Jacob’s vast flocks and herds.  Joseph reported his brothers’ incompetence.  They hated him, sold him into slavery and dipped his clothing in blood.  Jacob concluded his son was killed by wild beasts and was crushed with grief.  Since only two years is available after Shechem, Joseph’s apparent death had to have happened at Bethel.  His mother was still alive and Benjamin had not yet been born.  Joseph saw Benjamin for the first time when his brothers brought him to Egypt.  Scripture says Jacob grieved over Joseph and would not be comforted.  This event broke Jacob and caused him to return to Hebron and the consolation his home would provide. 

“At that time” (Genesis 38:1) begins the story of Judah’s marriage and family.  It happened during the days Joseph was dreaming of dominance over his brothers and parents, during those two years when Joseph was Jacob’s eyes and ears.  Joseph was 15 when they arrived at Bethel and 17 when his brothers sold him.  Judah being six years older than Joseph was 21-23 during the Bethel years.  His marriage couldn’t have happened much earlier because it happened around the time that tragedy befell Joseph.  It couldn’t have happened much later because Egypt was just 22-23 years off and Judah would father, raise and marry off two sons during those 22-23 years. 

God’s second appearance.  God had confirmed the Abrahamic Covenant to Jacob at this very place when he left home for Haran (Genesis 28:10-22).  Now 32 plus years later God repeated those promises: 

10 And God said to him, “Israel shall be your name….  11“I am God Almighty [El Shaddai]: be fruitful and multiply.  A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body.  12The land that I gave to Abraham and Isaac, I will give to you, and I will give the land to your offspring after you.”  Genesis 35:11-12.

God identified Himself as “El Shaddai,” the all-powerful God.  No less than the One who created all things in six days stood behind these promises to Abraham, Isaac and now Jacob.  Further, God confirmed Jacob’s new name “Israel” first given over 12 years before when he had wrestled with God all night.  He hadn’t been living up to his new name in Shechem.  Now that he was living in Bethel, he was finally being “Israel” and God acknowledged that.  This divine appearance happened sometime after Jacob built the altar and offered sacrifice on it when his troop first arrived.  This is clear because in response to this appearance, Jacob set up a pillar of stone and poured out both a drink offering and oil on it.

But there were tears even at Bethel.  There Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse died and was buried under an oak.  The place was named “Allon-bacuth” (oak of weeping; Genesis 35:8).  Possibly this woman had cared for Jacob in his infancy and his mother as she aged.  It is likely that when Rebekah died, her nurse came to help with all the children born to Jacob.  In Jacob’s household she became a pleasant reminder of his years in his parent’s home. 

From Bethel to Hebron and finally to Egypt 

Crushed by the loss of Joseph Jacob headed for home.  More grief visited the disheartened band.  Jacob’s beloved Rachel went into labor near Bethlehem which was then called Ephrath.  Rachel had prayed for another son (Genesis 30:24) and now God answered.  The child Benjamin lived, but his mother died in childbirth.  This was Jacob’s twelfth and last son.  Over a thousand years later Micah would prophecy that the most significant son in all human history would be born there.  The second person of the godhead, God the Son, would become clothed with humanity in that very place.

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.  Micah 5:2.

In a single verse (Genesis 35:22) Scripture reports another disheartening event.  His oldest son committed fornication with his beloved wife’s handmaid, Bilhah.  It was like violating the memory of Rachel.  Scripture calls her “his father’s concubine.”  Most likely, Bilhah bore some of Jacob’s daughters.  We don’t hear any more of this until Jacob blesses his sons on his death bed.  There he says to Reuben,

3Reuben, you are my firstborn, my might and the firstfruits of my strength, preeminent in dignity and preeminent in power.  4Unstable as water, you shall not have preeminence, because you went up to your father’s bed; then you defiled it—he went up to my couch!  Genesis 49:2-3.

Finally, Jacob arrived “at Mamre, or Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron), where Abraham and Isaac had sojourned” (Genesis 35:27).  He had been away for 34 years, the 20 with Laban plus the 14 in Shechem and Bethel.  He had left home at the age of 74.  Now he returned at the age of 108.  During his absence Esau lived for a time with his parents, Isaac and Rebekah, who must have harbored a deep, quiet grief for Jacob. 

Esau no longer had to compete with Jacob who seemed unmatchable.  As he became the sole heir of all his father had, he mellowed.  Apparently, he eventually showed interest in the stories of God’s appearances to his father and grandfather and finally believed.  When Jacob returned from Haran, Esau welcomed him home with tears, forgiving his brother who had purchased his birthright and stolen his father’s blessing.  God honored Esau with an entire chapter of the Bible, a long one at that, devoted to a 500-year record of his descendants (Genesis 36). 

Jacob enjoyed his father’s company for just 12 years (1898-1886 BC).  Genesis 35:28-29 report, “Now the days of Isaac were 180 years.  And Isaac breathed his last, and he died and was gathered to his people, old and full of days.  And his sons Esau and Jacob buried him.”  Jacob was 120.  Eight years later famine struck.  Jacob was infirm but still surrounded by his family and still in control.  What happened next requires the context that follows. 

The Ishmaelites had sold the slave Joseph to Potiphar, captain of Pharaoh’s guard.  In time Potiphar realized Joseph was a good administrator and put him in charge of all he possessed.  His wife found Joseph handsome.  When Joseph refused her overtures, she falsely accused him and Potiphar placed him in the special prison where Pharaoh’s prisoners were kept.  Again, his genius was apparent and he was assigned to care for the prisoners. 

Then Joseph interpreted Pharaoh’s dream and was made the governor of Egypt.  Over the next seven years of plenty, due to his administrative skills the storage facilities of Egypt came to overflow with grain.  Then began the seven years of famine and the arrival of his brothers.  After shrewd testing, he disclosed himself to them with tears. 

Since five years of famine remained, Joseph invited his family to move to Egypt.  Pharaoh gave Jacob prized land in the Nile Delta (Goshen) nearest Canaan.  Jacob appeared before Pharaoh and said he was 130 years old.  Scripture identifies all his descendants who ended up in Egypt.  Counting Jacob the party numbered 70 (Genesis 46:8-27).  The Book of Exodus opens by repeating the names of Jacob’s sons in Egypt and giving the same number for his party found in Genesis 46:27 (70).   Jacob died 17 years later at the age of 147 (Genesis 47:28). 

Lessons from Jacob’s Genealogy

1.     Use of the term “son.”  In totaling the sons of each of Jacob’s four wives, Scripture says “these are the sons of… Leah” (v15), “Zilpah” (v18), “Rachel (v22) and “Bilhah” (v24).  In the list are sons, grandsons and even great grandsons.  Also included in the count of sons borne by Leah is her husband, Jacob.  Obviously, “son” can have a wider meaning than in typical genealogies.  The various uses of kinship terms is the subject of the next chapter.

2.     Focus on sons.  Of the 69 named individuals who descended from Jacob and comprised his household in Egypt, 67 were sons and just two were daughters.  Specifically, it says that Leah bore 33 sons and daughters, even though it lists only one, Dinah.  Seriah in verse 17 is the only other daughter found in the list.  In using “daughter” in the plural, Scripture indicates that other daughters were born but are not listed.  Since over time the number of sons and daughters balance out, several dozen daughters could have been omitted for this supposedly complete list. 

3.     Focus on the future.  In two clear cases unborn sons are listed.  Perez’s sons, Hezron and Hamul, were born years after the move to Egypt since Perez himself was born at the time of the move.  Benjamin was just 22 at the time of the move, yet ten sons are listed for him.  Most would have been born after the move.  Why would a genealogy list unborn sons?  This list shows that God is beginning the fulfillment of his promise to make Abraham’s descendants without number. 

Because of these obvious differences from typical genealogies, unless the Bible interpreter thinks of genealogies as Hebrews did, he will make incorrect interpretations. 

Tables 4.1 and 4.2 (found in the Appendix) compile Jacob’s chronology.  A highly accurate list is possibly because Scripture gives so much detail to Jacob’s life.  Table 4.1 points out that whereas 38 specific dates or details are recorded concerning Isaac, 80 are found for Abraham and 158 relate to Jacob.  Table 4.2 dates with a high degree of reliability 30 specific details or events in his life producing an extremely accurate chronology. 

With HB’s study of the lives of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, a reliable historical chronology can be established back to the birth of Abraham’s father, Terah.  Working backwards, from the beginning of Solomon’s temple in 966 BC, the Exodus occurred 480 years before (1446 BC).  Jacob moved his family to Egypt 430 years before that (1876).  He was born 130 years before (2006 BC).  Isaac was born 60 years before that in 2066 BC and Abraham was born 100 years before Isaac (2166 BC).  Finally, Terah was born 130 years before Abraham (2296 BC). 

These numbers are found in Table 3.1.  Tables B.1 and B.2 use HB’s findings of 40-50 generations missing between Eber and Peleg to produce historical chronologies both forwards and backwards between creation and the present. 

[1]Merrill F. Unger, Unger’s Bible Dictionary, (Chicago: Moody Press, Revised 1961), 546.

[2]C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, The Pentateuch, Volume 1, 268-269.

[3]Henry M. Morris, The New Defender’s Study Bible, (Nashville: World Publishing, 1995), 1916-commenting on Hebrews 12:16.

[4]James Ussher, Annuls of the World, (Green Forest, AR.:  Master Books, Revised and Updated by Larry and Marion Pierce, 2003), 28.

[5] This scenario suggests all twelve children were born within Leah’s birthing history of resting six months after pregnancies #1, #2, #3, #5, #6 and resting 24 months after pregnancy #4.  The total time elapsed is nine months for each of her seven pregnancies (six sons and a daughter) for a total of 63 months, five rests of six months each for a total of 30 months, and the long 24-month rest between her 4th and 5th pregnancies.  Thus, her total birthing history was 63 months of pregnancies, 30 months of short resting periods and 24 months of the one long resting period.  Total elapsed time:  63+ 30 + 24 or 117 months.

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