Hearing God’s Voice in the House of Israel -- By: Chelsea DeArmond
PP 21:1 (Winter 2007) p. 11
Hearing God’s Voice in the House of Israel
CHELSEA DEARMOND is an M.A. student at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minn. She is editor of Mutuality, the award-winning quarterly magazine of Christians for Biblical Equality.
What does it mean to be founders of a nation chosen by God? Power? Privilege? Pride? Jacob’s blessing of his first four sons, recorded in Genesis 49:1-12, paints a different picture of God’s ideal. This article will trace themes of alienation and identification to show that the integrity of the sons of Israel is challenged and ultimately identified by the voice—or the lack of voice—of a grieving concubine (Gen. 35:16-22), a disgraced sister (Gen. 34), and a widowed daughter-in-law (Gen. 38).
Who will receive the special blessing?
1Then Jacob called his sons, and said: “Gather around, that I may tell you what will happen to you in days to come.
2Assemble and hear, O sons of Jacob; listen to Israel your father.” (NRSV)
The Hebrew word for blessing (berakah) is virtually an anagram of the word that means both birthright and firstborn (bekorah). Although the firstborn son was entitled to a double portion of his father’s inheritance and a special blessing, in the blessing Jacob pronounced for his sons, the right of the primogenitor is dispersed according to the degree to which each son demonstrated covenant love to others. At the point Jacob assembles his sons together, Joseph had already received the double portion.1 The recipient of the special blessing had yet to be determined.
The alienation of Bilhah and Reuben from the house of Israel
3Reuben, you are my firstborn,
my might and the first fruits of my vigor,
excelling in rank and excelling in power.
4Unstable as water, you shall no longer excel
because you went up onto your father’s bed;
then you defiled it—you went up onto my couch!
Reuben’s blessing begins with an acknowledgment of his status as firstborn. He is described as “excelling in rank and excelling in power.” Unfortunately, Reuben’s excellence was attained at others’ expense. Genesis 35:22 reveals the “other” whom Reuben violated for his own gain: “While Israel lived in that land, Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father’s concubine; and Israel heard of it.”
Click here to subscribe