Blessings, curses

“Gather around,” Israel told his sons as they entered his tent in the cool of the evening. “I want to tell you what to expect in the coming days.”

All twelve sons presented themselves before their patriarch, each anticipating a blessing to carry them forward after his death.

“Reuben, my firstborn, the might of my youth, great in rank and power,” Israel began. “You went in and defiled your father’s bed. You’re unstable and your best days are behind you.”

Reuben fell to his knees and began to weep.

“Simeon and Levi,” Israel continued. “Brothers of violence, woe to those who would join in your company. In anger you kill men, and in jest, you slaughter innocent animals. You’re divided as brothers, and you’ll be scattered as tribes in Israel.”

Simeon and Levi slumped where they stood, the lines in their faces betraying a lifetime of wrath.

“Judah.”

Judah straightened his spine, bracing himself for whatever came next.

“Judah, your brothers will bow before you and praise you, and your enemies will fall under your yoke. You’re a lion’s cub, drawing vitality from the kill. When you stretch out like a lion, who dares to rouse you? The king’s scepter will remain in your hand, its base will rest at your feet until your people come with their tribute and obedience. The traveler will come into your land and tie his colt to the nearest vine, for wine will be as abundant as water.”

Judah closed his eyes and let out the breath he’d been unconsciously holding.

“Zebulun, you’ll settle on the seashore of Sidon, a safe harbor for coming ships. Issachar, you’d sooner nap between the sheep pens than to earn your keep and enjoy your freedom, so you’ll be a slave to others. Dan, you’ll serve as the justice of the peace among the tribes. Like a viper who strikes the horse’s heel, your bite will bring the rider down swiftly.”

Israel paused, as if in thought. He looked up and sighed deeply. “Save us, Lord,” he expelled, looking as if he would faint.

Judah stepped forward to steady the man, but Israel held up his hand. “We wait for you, Lord.”

Judah stepped back, and the tent was silent for a few minutes. Then Israel continued.

“Gad will be overtaken by bandits, but he’ll get his revenge. Asher will prepare food fit for kings. Naphtali will be a free-range deer, and his offspring will be nimble and beautiful. And Joseph…”

Israel reached out his arms, and his beloved son knelt at his feet.

“Joseph is a flourishing tree by a brook, his branches scaling the castle walls. Archers attack with brutality to no avail. He nocked his bow by the steady hand of God, the guiding Shepherd, the Rock of Israel. The God of your father will continue to steady your hand and bless you with gifts from the heavens above and from the depths below, blessings of nourishment and fertility. My blessings are greater than all the bounty that the timeless mountains have provided, and they rest upon your head. My son, you are set apart from your brothers.”

Joseph kissed his father’s hand and returned to stand among his brothers.

“Benjamin, my joy, you are a hungry wolf. In the morning you hunt your prey, and in the evening you share the spoils.”

Israel drew himself onto the bed and leaned his head on the banister.

“I’m prepared to be gathered to my ancestors. By Joseph’s word, I’ll be buried at Machpelah Cave near Mamre Oaks, purchased by my grandfather, Abraham, who is buried there with his wife, Sarah. My parents, Isaac and Rebekah, are buried there. My wife, Leah, is buried there.”

Then, Isaac drew his final breath.

Inspiration: Genesis 49

Money returned

On the way out of the city, Zebulun opened his sack of grain to feed his donkey, when he noticed his purse half-buried in the grain. It was full!

“Look, brothers,” he said. “My money has been returned to me.”

The brothers stopped and looked inside their sacks. They were dismayed to find that every shekel used to buy grain was still in their possession.

“We’ve stolen from the man,” Dan gasped. “What has God done to us?”

The brothers reached their father’s house as the sun was going down, and they relayed their misadventures to him. When they showed Israel their full bundles of money, his countenance changed from concern to despair.

“You stole from the ruler of Egypt,” he sighed. “Joseph is dead, Simeon is taken captive, and now you would take my beloved Benjamin away.”

“And yet we must. For Simeon’s sake,” Judah said.

Israel shook his head.

Reuben stepped forward. “My two sons’ lives for Benjamin,” he vowed. “If I don’t return him to you alive, you can kill them both.”

“Madness!” Israel shouted. “You should listen to yourself sometime. Benjamin’s brother was ravaged in the wild, and the road to Egypt is treacherous. If he came to harm, I couldn’t bear it. I’d join him in the grave.”

So, Israel his sons’ request for Benjamin.

Inspiration: Genesis 42

Growing family

Rachel seethed with envy over Leah and her children, but she lashed out at Jacob. “I’ll die if you don’t give me children,” she complained violently.

Jacob said, “What do you want me to do, play God?”

As a matter of fact, that might not be such a bad idea, she thought.

Rachel left Jacob’s tent and returned a few minutes later with her maid, Bilhah. “Sleep with Bilhah,” she said, nudging her maid closer to Jacob, “and let her carry my babies.” Jacob took Bilhah into his bed, and they had a son named Dan.

Rachel was overjoyed. “God has weighed everything and has answered in my favor.”

Then Bilhah had another son, and Rachel named him Naphtali.

Jacob’s nocturnal visits with Leah were few, but because her rivalry with Rachel was strong, Leah took a strategy from Rachel’s playbook and gave her maid Zilpah to Jacob as a surrogate. Zilpah had two sons for her, and Leah named them Gad and Asher.

During the wheat harvest, little Reuben was playing out in the field and came across a sweet-smelling bouquet of mandragora flowers. He plucked them carefully by the root and brought them to his mother.

When Rachel saw her sister’s flowers and caught their pleasant scent, and believing them to aid in fertility, she wanted some for her own house.

“Please give me some of your mandrakes,” she said.

But Leah, remembering her bitterness toward her rival sister, said, “You stole my husband, and you have the gall to ask me for flowers my child presented to me as a gift?”

“Give me some,” Rachel bargained, “and I’ll give you Jacob for the night.”

“Deal,” Leah said, collecting a handful from the bowl by the door.

Jacob was returning from the herds late in the day, and Leah met him halfway. “You’ll be sleeping with me tonight,” she said. “I bought an evening with you in exchange for exquisite mandrakes.”

Jacob slept with Leah, and she bore two more sons, Issachar and Zebulun, and a daughter named Dinah.

God also answered Rachel’s prayers, and from her own womb, she bore a son named Joseph. “Thanks to God, I’m no longer a disappointment.” Then, as if Joseph weren’t enough, she added, “May God give me another son!”

So all of the bickering among Jacob’s wives brought to fruition the entry point of God’s promise of countless descendants for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Inspiration: Genesis 30, Song of Solomon 7:13