A Daily Genesis

Genesis 35:21-22a

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[B][COLOR=#ff0000]†.[/COLOR] Gen 35:21 . . Israel journeyed on, and pitched his tent beyond Migdal-eder.[/B]

Although Israel is Jacob's spiritual name, it's also the name of his whole household (e.g. Gen 34:7) so that when Genesis says "Israel journeyed" it means everybody associated with Jacob was on the move.

An important technicality to note is that Abraham and Isaac were no more Israelites than Noah was. The name Israel began with Jacob, and was carried forward by his sons. In its infancy, Israel was a family name rather than the name of a nation that it is now. It might sound ridiculous, but in order for Abraham and Isaac to become Israelites, it would be necessary for Jacob to legally adopt them.

Migdal-eder is a compound word. [I]Migdal[/I] can mean a tower, a rostrum, or a pyramidal bed of flowers. [I]'Eder [/I]is a proper name, of either a man or a place-name in Palestine. So Migdal-eder could be 'Eder's tower, which may not have even existed in Jacob's day but was a well known landmark in the author's.

Migdal appears only three times in Genesis: once here, and twice in chapter 11 in reference to the Tower of Babel. The tower in Babel was probably an elaborate ziggurat, but 'Eder's tower may have been something very rudimentary, quite simple to construct, and used for agrarian purposes-- e.g. tending herds; and watching for rustlers and predators --rather than especially for religious purposes.

[B][COLOR=#ff0000]†.[/COLOR] Gen 35:22a . .While Israel stayed in that land, Reuben went and lay with Bilhah, his father's concubine; and Jacob found out.[/B]

Bilhah was Rachel's maid, and quite a bit older than Reuben. She was also the mother of two of Reuben's half-brothers: Dan and Naphtali. Exactly why Reuben took an interest in Bilhah isn't stated. But, it's not like there was a shortage of girls his own age among the women in Jacob's camp. Jacob had a lot of hired help, and plenty of slaves too. If Reuben just wanted to sow some wild oats, it would have been very easy.

Reuben may have been interested in Bilhah for quite a while prior to this recorded incident; but was kept at bay by Rachel's oversight. Now, with her dead, and out of the way, the coast was clear for a carnal liaison. Exactly how Bilhah felt about the affair is not said; but may have been quite flattered by a younger man's interest; and who's to say she wasn't a cougar at heart.

One possibility, that seems quite reasonable, and actually makes much better business sense than the motions of a young man's carnal lust, is that Reuben took a bold step to insure Rachel's maid Bilhah would not ascend to the position of favored wife over his own mom Leah. He was surely aware of the sisterly rivalry between Rachel and Leah, since he was in the middle of a conjugal struggle between the two back in Gen 30:14-16; and he must have been fully aware of his mom's feelings over being switched on Rachel's wedding night.

By sleeping with Bilhah, and thus "defiling" her, Reuben may have hoped Jacob would be sufficiently revolted enough by the affair so that he'd be inclined to avoid Bilhah from then on and turn his full attention upon Leah.

If the above is true, then it only goes to show just how heartless Reuben could be. His plan, if successful, would leave Bilhah in living widowhood, and the clutches of loneliness and sexual frustration for the remainder of her life. That very scenario was a reality in the case of David and his son Absalom. (2Sam 15:16, 16:20-22, and 20:2-3)

An additional possibility is that in ancient times, firstborn sons commonly inherited not only their father's estate, but also his wives and concubines. Reuben may thus have been claiming his future inheritance. But in so doing, he was, in reality, whether intentional or not, taking steps to depose Jacob; and thus gain immediate headship in the clan.

This seems likely because the boys really didn't think much of Jacob's competency. They went over his head in the incident at Shechem, and were disgusted with Jacob's lack of strong response to their sister's escapades: an episode which in reality disgraced the family of Israel. (Gen 34:30-31)

Whatever the true circumstances, and the motives, the thing Reuben did earned him Jacob's reprimand, and cost him the loss of his privileged position in the family (Gen 49:3-4). Reuben's birthright was transferred to Joseph (1Chrn 5:1).

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