What Does the Bible Say About…/Part 6

By: Dr. Thomas O. Figart; ©2003
Dr. Figart once again tackles questions sent in by 8th grade students regarding the book of Genesis. Was it okay for Joseph to practice divination? What’s wrong with not being circumcised? Was it normal to send a servant to look for a wife?

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Students from Manheim Christian Day School (PA) ask Questions About the Bible

Answered by Dr. Thomas Figart

Why was Jacob so mad at Simeon and Levi? Did they do some­thing against him so that they wouldn’t get the blessing?

JD writes: “Why was Jacob so mad at Simeon and Levi? Did they do some­thing against him so that they wouldn’t get the blessing?”

Answer: In Genesis 49:5-7, Jacob says they would be “scattered in Israel.” What they did against Jacob is recorded in Genesis 34. After Shechem took Dinah, their sister, and committed sexual sin with her, “they were very angry, because he had wrought folly in Israel in lying with Jacob’s daughter; which thing ought not to be done” (34:7). So, this first part of the story should not be forgotten. Shechem sinned against the Israelites by defiling their sister Dinah; that was completely wrong. However, in seeking revenge they went to extremes. Instead of asking for Shechem to be punished, they discussed the possibility of intermarriage with these unbelievers; but only if they would consent to have their males circumcised. This was wrong in itself, and deceitful on the part of Simeon and Levi, who went and murdered all the males while they were weak and sore from the circumcision.

Several things were wrong:

  1. They practiced deception instead of insisting on Shechem’s death.
  2. They misused the sign of God’s covenant with the Jews (circumcision) to gratify their revenge.
  3. They extended their revenge to the entire town, plundered the dead, and took the women and children captive.

Did they miss the blessing of Jacob? Yes, in that these two families were scattered (Genesis 49:1). Simeon received no separate assignment of territory, but rather a number of cities within the tribe of Judah (Joshua 19:1-9). Levi became the priestly tribe, it is true, but they had no tribal territory, merely the Levitical cities among all the tribes.

The only reason the neighboring cities of unbelievers did not attack Israel: “And they journeyed; and the terror of God was upon the cities that were round about them, and they did not pursue after the sons of Jacob” (35:5).

Why did God let Pharaoh enslave His chosen people?

LS asks: “Why did God let Pharaoh enslave His chosen people?”

Answer: We may not always understand “why” God does things as He does, and even when He tells us “why” it may be hard to take. To this question, the answer comes long before Israel went into Egypt. In Genesis 15:13-14, God “said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs; and they shall afflict them four hundred years. And also that nation, whom they serve, will I judge: and afterward they shall come out with great substance.” In verse 16 God gives the “why” of this 400 years of slavery: “But in the fourth generation they shall come here again, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.” In God’s plan to judge the wicked Amorites, the strongest of the Canaanite tribes, He was waiting until the time was ripe for their extermination. But why God allowed His chosen People to suffer 400 years instead of 100, or even 40, I do not pretend to know. One thing I know, there is no unrighteousness with God!

That same day, the LORD repeated the covenant with Abram and gave the outline of the Promised Land. In chapter 16 because of Sarai’s lack of faith, she told Abram to go unto her Egyptian maid Hagar and have a child, and unfortunately, Abram listened to Sarai, and as a result Ishmael was born, half Arab (Egyptian) and half Jewish! The Jews have been having trouble with the Arabs ever since! So, even though Israel was finally freed from the bondage of Egypt, the Egyptian maid was the source of years of conflict with Arab tribes.

Was marriage based on love in the Old Testament? (with refer­ence to Moses and Isaac).

LG asks: “Was marriage based on love in the Old Testament?” (with refer­ence to Moses and Isaac).

Answer: Since Isaac came before Moses, let’s consider his marriage first. As we men­tioned in answering the question about Abraham’s servant, he was sent to find a wife for Isaac, a believing relative, to keep the line of Messiah pure. From Genesis 24:67, Isaac did love his wife Rebekah: “And Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent, and took Rebekah, and she became his wife, and he loved her: and Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.”

After Moses killed the Egyptian who was smiting one of the Hebrews (Exodus 2:11), Pharaoh heard of it and sought to slay Moses, who fled to the land of Midian, which was on the east side of the Red Sea. Midian was one of the six sons of Abraham and Keturah, one of his concubines (Genesis 25:2). Apparently her sons did not receive the major inherit­ance: “And Abraham gave all that he had unto Isaac. But unto the sons of the concubines, whom Abraham had, Abraham gave gifts, and sent them away from Isaac, his son, while he yet lived, eastward into the east country” (Genesis 25:5-6). Thus, Moses married a relative, through Abraham and Keturah; but did he love Zipporah? There is no reason to believe he did not love her, and the last time she is mentioned is in Exodus 18:5 when her father brought her and her two sons “to Moses in the wilderness, where he encamped at the Mount of God.”

Why did ‘I AM’ send the plagues?

FK writes, “Why did ‘I AM’ send the plagues?”

Answer: In Exodus 7:2-5 the LORD said that He would speak to Moses, then Moses would speak to Aaron, and in turn Aaron would speak to Pharaoh, to send Israel out of Egypt: “And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart and multiply my signs and my wonders in the land of Egypt. But Pharaoh shall not hearken unto you, that I may lay my hand upon Egypt, and bring out the children of Israel from among them.” In summary, there were three rea­sons for the plagues:

  1. To bring Israel out of Egypt.
  2. To show God’s almighty power.
  3. To execute judgment against “all the gods of Egypt” (Exodus 12:12).

How can you make darkness that can be felt?

GO asks: “How can you make darkness that can be felt?”

Answer: In Exodus 10:21-22 the ninth plague on Egypt is described as “darkness which can be felt,” and “thick darkness.” The Hebrew words are choshek ephelah, “darkness of obscurity.” In other words, “the deepest darkness.” It was so bad that they could not even see each other at close range, so no one dared to rise up from their place for 3 days. It would be similar to being blind. Some interpreters think it was caused by the wind called Chamsin, which blows and lasts 2 or 3 days, filling the air with fine dust and sand, that it covers the sky with dense fog. When the Chamsin comes, both humans and animals hide themselves from this storm, and shut themselves up in innermost rooms and cellars until it is over, for the dust penetrates even through well-closed windows. Whichever method God used, it was enough for the Egyptians to “feel” the darkness.

Why did God almost kill Moses in Exodus 4:24?

Question: JG asks, “Why did God almost kill Moses in Exodus 4:24?”

Answer: The answer to this question comes in Exodus 4:25-26. Moses either neglected or forgot the sign of the covenant of Israel with God, namely, the command to circumcise all the male children on their eighth day of life. Just as soon as Zipporah, Moses’ wife, circumcised their son, then “God let him (Moses) go. Then she said, A bloody husband thou art, because of the circumcision.” (Exodus 4:26). I would suggest also, that you read Joshua 5:1-9 for another aspect of this same truth.

Why did God harden Pharaoh’s heart? That seems unfair.

LA questions, “Why did God harden Pharaoh’s heart? That seems unfair.”

Answer: There is a short way and a long way to answer; the short answer is found in Romans 9:14-22. It would be good to read this in full, but I will give several excerpts: 9:14—“Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid!

9:17—“For the Scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might show my power in thee and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth.”

9:18—“Therefore He hath mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will, He hardeneth.”

The long answer is to look up each reference in Exodus where three similar words for “harden” are used, and see how they are used. Did God harden Pharaoh’s heart, or did Pharaoh harden his own heart?

  1. Chazak, to tie fast, bind, harden, is used in Exodus 4:21; 7:13, 22; 8:19; 9:12, 35; 10:20; 11:10; 14:8, 17. In 8 of these verses, God hardens Pharaoh’s heart; in 2 others, Pharaoh’s heart “was hardened,” which could be by God or by Pharaoh himself.
  2. Karad, to be heavy, make weighty, harden. Used in 7:14; 9:7, Pharaoh’s heart “was hardened,” used in 10:1, “I have hardened Pharaoh’s heart,” and in 8:15, 32, Pharaoh “hardened his heart.”
  3. Kashah, Used only once, “I will harden Pharaoh’s heart,” Ex. 7:3.

Summary: 10 times, God did it; 3 times, Pharaoh did it, 4 times, it “was hardened.”

God is sovereign, but man has free will, or else he is merely a robot. Both things enter into this question. Going back to Romans 8:28, All things work together for good to them who love God, to them who are called according to His purpose. Then the logical method of God’s purpose is given, the first part of which is His foreknowledge, then His predestina­tion. When God made man in His own image, He gave mankind intellect, sensibility, and will. God foreknew who would choose evil, and who would choose good, and on that basis, His foreknowledge, He predestined some to be saved and the rest would be lost because of their unbelief.

Now go back to Romans 9:22, “God endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath, fitted to destruction.” Remember, the Egyptians served false gods long before they met the Israelites, and as Romans 1 says, sometime in their ancient past, ”when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful… and their foolish heart was darkened… who exchanged the truth of God for a lie” (Romans 1:21-32). Read the entire passage and note how many times it says, “God gave them up.” This included all who worshipped false gods. Yes, God is fair!!

When Moses killed that Egyptian for beating a slave, was he wrong since he was saving the life of a slave?

CA asks, “When Moses killed that Egyptian for beating a slave, was he wrong since he was saving the life of a slave?”

Answer: Two wrongs never make a right. Murder is a sin no matter who does it. Moses could have, and should have taken the man to Pharaoh for justice instead of taking the law into his own hands. It is similar to Matthew 26:51 when Peter cut off the ear of Malchus, servant of the high priest. He thought he was doing the right thing in trying to rescue Jesus, but Christ rebuked him and healed Malchus’ ear (Luke 22:51). Jesus even told Peter that He could have called legions of angels for protection if needed; he did not need a sword.

Why did Abraham give Rebekah a nose ring? Was it some tradition?

KD asks, “Why did Abraham give Rebekah a nose ring? Was it some tradition?”

Answer: Actually, it was the servant of Abraham who gave Rebekah the nose ring (Gen­esis 24:22) This, and the other gifts he presented to her may have been bridal gifts from Abraham, but they may also have merely been gifts for her kindness to him and those with him. Apparently earrings and nose rings were commonly used by men as well as women, “And Aaron said unto them, Break off the golden earrings which are in the ears of your wives, of your sons, and of your daughters, and bring them unto me.” (Exodus 32:2). God also said to Israel, “I decked thee also with ornaments, and I put bracelets upon thy hands and a chain upon thy neck. And I put a jewel in thy nose, and earrings in thine ears, and a beautiful crown upon thine head” (Ezekiel 16:11-12). So there must have been some tradi­tion connected with this practice.

Why did they swear by putting their hands under people’s thighs; in reference to Abraham and his servant Eliezer?”

JH asks, “Why did they swear by putting their hands under people’s thighs; in reference to Abraham and his servant Eliezer?”

Answer This custom of putting the hand under the thigh, or hips, is mentioned again in Genesis 47:29 when Jacob was about to die. He asked Joseph to swear an oath that Joseph would not bury Jacob in Egypt, but would take his body back to Israel to be buried with his fathers. This was called “the body oath.” It was connected with the significance of the hip as the part from which the vital power of life came. Some of the early Jewish com­mentators connected it with the rite of circumcision.

Why did God touch Jacob’s thigh after they were wrestling? And why did God change his name?

From JR, “Why did God touch Jacob’s thigh after they were wrestling? And why did God change his name?”

Answer: God touched Jacob’s thigh for two reasons: First, it was because Jacob would not let God go. However, when God saw that Jacob still held on, He blessed Jacob, so God changed Jacob’s name to Israel. The second reason: Jacob’s crippled thigh was to be a constant and permanent reminder that God was all-powerful. Still, Jacob held on to the “Angel” as described by Hosea 12:3-4. This was truly God, appearing as the Angel of Jehovah. He was the Old Testament manifestation of Christ, since He was always “sent from Jehovah” (Genesis 24:7; Exodus 32:34). Genesis 24:30 adds, “And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel (face of God), for I have seen God face to face and my life is preserved.”

God changed Jacob’s name to Israel (God’s fighter, God’s prince), because Jacob had successfully striven with God. Jacob’s descendants are called Israelites, in honor of Jacob’s prevailing with God. Jacob’s life was changed at this point. He was no longer Jacob, the supplanter, or crook, but became humble, and built an altar called El-Elohe Israel, “God, the God of Israel.”

Why did Jacob bless Ephraim rather than Manasseh? Was it because he had bad eyesight, or was Ephraim just going to be a better leader?

AG wanted to know, Why did Jacob bless Ephraim rather than Manasseh? Was it because he had bad eyesight, or was Ephraim just going to be a better leader?

Answer: Jacob’s bad eyesight had nothing to do with the blessing of Ephraim over Manasseh. Verse 14 says he was “guiding his hands knowingly.” When Joseph rebuked him in verse 18, Jacob replied deliberately, “I know it… but truly his younger brother shall be greater than he.” As it turned out, Ephraim became the ruler over the 10 tribes of the northern kingdom, including Manasseh as one of these, and Judah and Benjamin were the southern Kingdom.

Read Part 7


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