Spilling seeds

Judah left home in Hebron to stay with a friend and fellow shepherd named Hirah in Adullam. While living there, he married a Canaanite named Bathshua, and they had two sons, Er and Onan. When Bathshua conceived the third son, Judah and his family settled for a time in Chezib.

Shortly after his third son Shelah was born, Judah chose a wife for his firstborn son, Er. Her name was Tamar.

Er was a wicked man, so God put him to death. As was the custom, Judah insisted that Onan marry his brother’s widow so that he could father a child on his brother’s behalf. But Onan wanted the offspring as heirs for himself, so whenever Onan had sexual intercourse with Tamar, he’d pull out and let his semen spill onto the ground. This displeased God, who wanted Abraham’s descendants to be fruitful, so He put him to death too.

“Live as a widow in your father’s house,” Judah told Tamar after Onan’s death. “When my son Shelah comes of age, he will be your husband, and he will give you an heir.”

Judah had no intention of giving his third son to Tamar because he feared Shelah too might die. But Tamar took Judah at his word and moved back to Adullam to live with her father until Shelah came of age.

Judah’s wife died shortly after Shelah grew to manhood. After he mourned her death, Judah and his friend Hirah decided to meet up in Timnah for sheep shearing season. Word got back to Tamar about their plans, and since Judah hadn’t kept his word to her, she decided to take matters into her own hands.

Tamar took off her widow’s clothing and put on a veil. There on the road to Timnah, she sat disguised as a prostitute at the entrance to Enaim. She would wait for Judah to pass by.

Inspiration: Genesis 38

Sibling betrayal

Israel wanted to hear a good report of his sons grazing his flocks so far away, roughly sixty miles from home in Hebron.

“Joseph,” he beckoned. “Go check on your brothers. Come back and tell me they’re taking proper care of my sheep.”

So Joseph left his father in the valley and set off for the lush fields near Shechem. Once he arrived, he began searching the area, and a man noticed him wandering around, looking lost.

“What are you looking for, stranger?” he asked.

I’m looking for my brothers,” he answered. “They’re around here somewhere pasturing my father’s sheep.”

The man answered, “I overheard them say they were going to Dathan,” and he pointed in that direction.

Sure enough, Joseph spotted them in a distant pasture near where the man had said.

“Look,” Simeon said, while Joseph was still far from them. “The dreamer has come to grace us with his presence.” As Joseph continued to approach, they plotted to cut his throat, throw him in an abandoned cistern, and tell their father he’d been slain by a wild beast. “Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams.”

Reuben wasn’t keen on killing the boy, though. “Don’t spill his blood,” he said. “Just throw him in the pit where he’ll die of his own accord, and with no blood on our hands.” Reuben secretly planned to come back later and rescue his father’s favorite son.

The brothers grabbed Joseph by both arms, stripped him of his multicolored robe, and threw him into the bone-dry pit. Reuben went back to the field to gather the flocks, and the rest of the brothers sat under a tree near the cistern to have some lunch.

A caravan of Ishmaelites approached from the direction of Gilead, and from the looks of the packs on their camels, they were heading to Egypt to sell their wares.

Judah stood up and said, “What good is our brother dead in a pit? Will his blood not still be on our hands?” Then he ran up to the roadside and waved his arms at the approaching merchants.

“What is this?” the leader of the caravan asked through his coarse beard. “Do we already have a buyer for our gum, balm, and resin?”

Judah held up his hand. “Wait here, sirs.” He went back down the hill where his brothers were eating. “Come on,” he said. “Let’s sell Joseph to these Ishmaelite traders.”

“Good idea, Judah,” Simeon said. “After all, he’s our brother, not a feral animal.”

“Or worse,” Levi added. “A son of Shechem.”

It was unanimous, so while Judah went to the road to negotiate the sale, the others lifted Joseph out of the cistern. They traded their brother for twenty silver pieces.

By the time the brothers had finished their lunch, Reuben had come back with the sheep and looked into the cistern. Seeing that Joseph was no longer there, he tore his clothes in grief.

He said, “Our brother is gone. What do we do?”

Naphtali tossed Joseph’s cloak on the ground, and Simeon brandished a long knife. Taking a goat from the flocks, he cut its throat and spilled the blood all over the multicolored coat. Taking it to their father, Naphtali said, “Look what we found on the path to Hebron. Didn’t this belong to Joseph?”

Israel tore his robe and wept. “A wild animal has devoured my son!” he lamented. “All that’s left is this bloody cloak.” He put a burlap loincloth around his middle and mourned for days. No amount of comfort from his sons and daughters did any good. “I’ll go into the depths of my son’s grave, mourning all the way,” he rasped.

Inspiration: Genesis 37

Sarah’s burial

At a hundred and twenty-seven years old, Sarah died at Hebron. Abraham sat by her bedside and mourned. Then he went to the Hittites and said, “I know I’m a stranger here, but sell me a plot so I can bury my wife on my own land.”

A Hittite representative said, “Master, you’re a great prince. We wouldn’t withhold even the best of our burial grounds.”

Abraham bowed and said, “If you’re willing, let me talk to Ephron, Zohar’s son. I’d like to buy the cave of Machpelah at the end of his field. With you as a witness, I’ll pay full price.”

Ephron was present among those with Abraham, and he said, “No, master, listen to me. The field is yours along with its cave. As my people are my witnesses, it’s yours. Go, bury your wife.”

Abraham bowed again before the Hittites and, looking squarely at Ephron, said, “I’m paying full price, and that’s final.”

Ephron answered, “Okay, master. What’s four hundred pieces of silver among friends? Pay me and go bury your wife.”

Abraham agreed to the price, paid the man according to the current exchange rate, and took possession of the field, along with all its vegetation, which was located east of Mamre. He buried Sarah in the cave facing Hebron in the land of Canaan.

Inspiration: Genesis 23

Parting ways

Abram now had an uncounted inventory of gold, silver, and livestock. He and Sarai, along with his nephew Lot resumed their circuit of travel, making their way back around to Shechem, where God first promised Abram he’d bring forth blessed nations from his family. The first altar he had built remained unblemished, so he conversed with God there in the evenings.

Lot was also getting wealthy, and soon the land couldn’t support both estates. The shepherds of both clans bickered more frequently, but when Lot’s herders started a turf war against the other, Abram intervened.

He met with his nephew by a creek one day. The smell of sun-soaked soil and rock was pleasant, and the water trickling over the pebbles altered their otherwise collectively foul mood. “Look,” Abram said, his jaw set,  “I’m not going to fight with you, and I’m certainly not going to allow our herders to go to blows. We’re all family here.”

Abram put an arm around Lot and gave him a quarter turn from where he stood. “Elevate your gaze, man. All this land is ours,” he said, making a sweeping gesture across the vast horizon. “Let’s agree that if you go east, I’ll go west. If you go west, I’ll go east.”

Lot looked around, his eyes narrowed. To the east, he saw the lush plains of Jordan, with her natural irrigation systems and cascading rivers, reminiscent of the fables of Eden.

“I’ll go east,” Lot said, biting his lip.

“And so it will be,” Abram concluded.

Lot spread his estate among the cities of the plains. He purchased property within the city limits of Sodom, a town known for its pride, laziness, and sexual appetite.

Abram moved westward, bringing his people and possessions to the beating heart of Canaan.

“Look up from the spot you’re standing on,” God said. “Look north, south, east, and west. These wide, open spaces will be yours forever.” And he promised, “I’ll make your children as numerous as the stars.”

The more he heard the promise, the more God added to it, and the more real it seemed. Abram settled down in Hebron at a place called Mamre Oaks where he built another altar to await the fruition of all that God had promised him.

Inspiration: Genesis 13