Were there Philistines in Palestine by Abraham's time?

Genesis 20 relates Abraham's sojourn in Gerar, where he resorted to a lie about Sarah's true relationship to him to safeguard himself against  assasination, should the truth about their marital status be known. Chapter 21 records the episode about Abraham's securing property rights to the well of Beersheba; and then it is said, "So they made a covenant at Beersheba; and Abimelech and Phicol... returned to the land of the Philistines" (v.32). In Genesis 26:1 we are told that Isaac "went to Gerar, to Abimelech king of the Philistines." (We may safely assume that since there was an interval of over sixty years between chaps. 21 and 26 [cf. 25:26], the Abimelech mentioned in 26:1 was a son or grandson of the older Abimelech and was named after him, a frequent custom among the Egyptian and Phoenician dynasties.)

These references to Philistines before 2050 B.C. (in the case of Abraham) have been rejected as impossible by many authorities. The Encyclopaedia Britannica (14th ed., s.v. "Philistia") states categorically: "In Gen. 21: 32, 34 and Ex. 13:17; 15:14; 23: 31 the references to Philistia and the Philistines are anachronistic." The ground for this assertion is found in the circumstance that up until now, at least, the earliest reference to Philistines in Egyptian records is found in the record of Ramses III concerning his victory over the "Sea Peoples" in a naval engagement fought in the Nile River in the 1190s B.C. It is supposed that after the P-r-s-t (as Egyptian spelled their name) and their allies were thus repulsed by the doughty Pharaoh, they retreated to the southern coastal region of Palestine and settled there as a military colony on a permanent basis. But to conclude from the mere fact that the earliest extant reference to the Philistines in Egyptian records dates from the 1190s constitutes any objective proof that there were no Philistine immigrants from Crete there at any time previously is an irresponsible violation of logic.

The Hebrew Scriptures constitute the most trustworthy of all archaeological documents (since they are invested with a divine trustworthiness from beginning to end); and they state very clearly that Philistines lived in Philistia as early as the twenty-first century B.C.

They also affirm that the Philistine fortresses that guarded the northern route from Egypt to Palestine were so formidable in the days of Moses (the 1440s B.C.) that a circuitous southern route remained the safest for the Israelites to use in their journey toward the Promised Land (Exod. 13:17). Obviously this record composed by Moses was centuries earlier than that of Ramses III, and there is no reason to assume that the earlier a record is the less trustworthy it must be. (Until recent times a similar argument from silence was used by some critics to dismiss the references in Gen. 18-19 to Sodom and Gomorrah as purely legendary and unhistorical. But now that the recently discovered Ebla tablets, dating from the twenty-fourth century B.C., contain references to both cities' maintaining commercial relations with Ebla, this critical contention is exposed as absurd. See G. Pettinato ["BAR Interviews Pettinato," p. 48], for Eblite references to Si-da-mu and I-ma-ar.) Once again the argument from silence is proven to be fallacious. The five main cities of the Philistines, or at least those that have been excavated, uniformly show occupation extending back to Hyksos times and before. The earliest level uncovered at Ashdod is certainly seventeenth century B.C. (cf. H.F. Vos, Archaeology in Bible Lands [Chicago: Moody, 1977], p. 146). Inscribed seals found at Gaza bear the names of Twelfth Dynasty Egyptian kings like Amenemhat III (ibid., p. 167). Hence there can be no doubt that this area was occupied by strong kingdoms back in the patriarchal age. To be sure, their population may have been pre-Philistine, but there is absolutely no proof that such was the case.

The southern coast of Palestine quite evidently became a favored region for trade and even for permanent settlement, so far as the Cretan population was concerned. The Philistines are referred to in Scripture as belonging to various groups, such as the Kaphtorim, the Cherethites, and the Pelethites. The commercial activity of Minoan Crete is known to have been most extensive; and its mariners must have discovered even before Abraham's time that the Philistine shore was blessed with an equable climate, rich soil, and a good rainfall for raising grain. They apparently migrated there in successive waves, more or less as the Danes kept migrating to the east coast of England over a period of several centuries until "Danelaw" was enlarged to cover all the region from the Scottish border to London itself. Migrations by the populations of a homeland across the sea are a frequent phenomenon throughout world history; so it surely should occasion no surprise that the Cretan emigrants continued their settlement activity over a period of several centuries, from before the time of Abraham until the unsuccessful naval expedition against Egypt in the early twelfth century. Therefore we conclude that there is no truly scientific evidence for classing the Philistine references in the Pentateuch as unhistorical or anachronistic.

How could God condemn human sacrifice in Leviticus 18 and 20 and yet command it in Genesis 22, or at least accept it in Judges 11?

It is a mistake to interpret Genesis 22:2 as a command by God for Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac on the altar. On the contrary, God actually (through His angel, at least) restrained Abraham's hand just as he was about to plunge the knife into his son's body, saying, "Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me" (v. 12, NASB). While it is true that the Lord instructed Abraham previously to present Isaac as a burnt offering ('olah), and Abraham himself undoubtedly understood it as a command to kill his son on the altar, the point at issue was whether the doting father was willing to surrender even his only son (begotten by Sarah) to the Lord as a proof of his complete surrender. But v. 12 is conclusive proof that Yahweh had no intention that Abraham should actually go through with this human sacrifice. It was simply a test of his faith.

As for the episode of Jephthah's daughter in Judges 11, see the article that deals with that passage. There is good reason to believe that in her case also, as in Isaac's (in both instances the term 'olah is used; cf. Judg. 11:31), the presentation did not eventuate in the death of the human "burnt offering." Rather, she was devoted to the service of the Lord as a virgin attendant in tabernacle worship for the rest of her life.

Leviticus 18:21 defines infant sacrifice as a profanation of the name of Yahweh, the God of Israel. Leviticus 20:2 prescribes the death penalty for any parent who does so—particularly in the worship of Molech, which especially featured infant sacrifice. It is logically indefensible to assume that God would expect or condone infant sacrifice on the part of Abraham or Jephthah, or any other of His servants, after such a stern prohibition of it in the Mosaic Law.

Is there archaeological evidence for Hittiles living in southern Palestine in patriarchal times?

Genesis 23 states that "the sons of Heth" were in control of Hebron back in Abraham's time. Five or six centuries later the twelve spies reported back to Moses and the Hebrew host (Num. 13:29) that there were Hittite settlements in the hill country of Canaan. But since the main center of Hittite power was in eastern Asia Minor and their capital was Hattusas (Boghazkoy), and since their first rise to prominence in the Near East came in the reign of Mursilis I (1620-1590 B.C.), who sacked the great metropolis of Babylon around 1600, many modern scholars have questioned the historicity of Hittites in Palestine as early as 2050, when Sarah was buried in the cave of Machpelah. And yet archaeological evidence also indicates that the Hittites occupied or brought into vassalage many of the kingdoms of Syria; and in the days of Ramses II of Egypt there was a major showdown with Muwatallis (1306-1282) of the Hittite New Kingdom, and a remarkable nonaggression pact was made between the two superpowers, the text of which has been preserved both in Egyptian and in Hittite. The treaty line was drawn in such a way as to give northern Syria to the Hittites and southern Syria (plus all Palestine) to the Egyptian sphere of influence (cf. G. Steindorff and K.C. Seele, When Egypt Ruled the East [Chicago: University of Chicago, 1942], p. 251).

More recent archaeological discoveries have indicated further southward penetration than this line and an earlier stage of Hittite activity than that of the Old Kingdom and New Kingdom empires. Cuneiform mercantile tablets have been recovered from Kiiltepe (ancient Kanesh) in Cappadocia, left by early Assyrian merchants between 1950 and 1850 B.C. (Vos, Archaeology, p. 314). But even before the arrival of the Indo-European-Anatolian immigrants (the Nesili-speakers), there was an earlier race of Hattians of non-Indo-European background. These were subdued by invaders of 2300-2000 B.C, who subsequently adopted the name Hatti for themselves, despite the linguistic and cultural differences between them and their predecessors.

O.R. Gurney, an eminent Hittite specialist, suggested that the original Hattians may have been much more widespread than in Asia Minor alone, and that they may even have set up colonies in regions as far south as Palestine (Tenney, Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia, 3:170). (Note that "Hatti" and "Hitti" would be written in the same consonants back in the B.C. era, and the vowels were supplied only by oral tradition.) In 1936 E. Forrer proposed on the basis of a Hittite text by King Mursilis II (ca. 1330 B.C.) that a Hittite group had migrated into Egyptian territory (i.e., regions of Syria-Palestine controlled by Egypt) earlier in the second millenium (cf. Encyclopaedia Britannica, 14th ed., s.v. "Hittites"; Tenney, Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia, 3:169-170).

Military penetration south of the Tarsus range began in the seventeenth century under Labarnas; Mursilis I succeeded in destroying Aleppo in Syria, and even ravaged Mari and plundered the Hurrians of the upper Euphrates. But the "Hittites" of Genesis may have had little in common with these Indo-European, Nesili-speaking conquerors, but rather may have come from the Hatti who historically preceded them in Asia Minor. Little can be concluded from the names referred to in Genesis 23, for Ephron and Zohar appear to be Semitic, Canaanite names—indicating an easy assimilation of the regional culture by these "Hittite" settlers in Hebron.

The Hittites are referred to later on in Israelite history. In Joshua's invasion they furnished resistance to his troops (Josh. 9:1-2; 11:3), but they were presumably crushed and annihilated by their Hebrew conquerors. Yet by the time of David there were some Hittites, at least, to furnish contingents for David's army. Such was Uriah, the husband of Bathsheba, who was clearly a committed believer and a devoted worshiper of Yahweh (2 Sam. 11:11). Solomon found the Neo-Hittites to be of sufficient political importance to have some of their princesses in his harem (1 Kings 11:1). Later on, in the 840s, Benhadad of Damascus led his troops in precipitous flight from their siege of Samaria because of their fear that "the king of Israel has hired against us the kings of the Hittites" (2 Kings 7:6).

During the earlier part of the first millennium B.C, various kings of northern Syria (whose territories had been part of the Hittite Empire in earlier centuries) bore names like Sapalulme (Suppiluliumas), Mutallu (Muwatallis), Lubarna (Labarnas), and Katuzili (Hattusilis). Hence they may have carried on something of the Hittite tradition, even though they had by now attained their independence. Among the "Neo-Hittite" principalities of Syria were Tuwana, Tunna, Hupis-na, Shinukhtu, and Ishtunda (Tenney, Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia, 3:168). These names all appear in the cuneiform records (largely the Assyrian) of the time of the Hebrew divided monarchy.

Was Keturah Abraham's second wife (Gen. 25:1) or merely his concubine (1 Chron. 1:32)?

Genesis 25:1 states that after Sarah's death Abraham took to himself a wife ('issah) whose name was Keturah (Qeturah). Verse 2 gives the names of six sons she bore to him in his old age. Abraham lost Sarah when she was 127, and when he was 137 (Gen. 23:1; cf. 17:17). How soon after Sarah's death Abraham married Keturah, we have no way of knowing; but the six sons she bore him became ancestors of various Arabian tribes, and she is honored to this day by the Arab race as their ancestral mother.

There is really no discrepancy in 1 Chronicles 1:32, even though the term pileges is used there rather than 'issah. Genesis 25:6 also refers to Keturah by implication as a pileges to Abraham; for after v.5 has made it clear that God had confirmed Isaac, Sarah's son, as his principal heir, v.6 records: "But to the sons of his concubines [the plural pilagesim presumably includes Hagar as well as Keturah], Abraham gave gifts while he was still living, and sent them away from his son Isaac eastward, to the land of the East" (NASB). Obviously the term pileges was used to indicate that although Keturah was the only lawfully wedded wife Abraham had (hence his 'issah) during this twilight period of his life, she had a secondary status in relationship to Sarah, since only Sarah had been chosen by God to be the mother of Isaac, Abraham's only heir under the promise of the covenant. As for pileges itself, it was a non-Semitic term of unknown origin, but which seems to have had the basic meaning of "secondary wife" (Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner, Lexicon in Veteris Testament Libros [Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1958], p. 761).

What concept of immortality is implied in "gathered to his people" (Gen. 25:8) and "slept with his fathers" (2 Kings 11:43)? Is there a connection with Jesus' depicting the deceased Lazarus in Abraham's bosom (Luke 16:22)?

The expression "gathered to his people" clearly implies something more than the mere proximity of corpses in some common tomb-vault or graveyard. Abraham was conceived of as joining his deceased loved ones in some sort of fellowship or personal association. Since Israel's neighbors all believed in the persistence of the soul after its departure from the body (so the Sumerians, Babylonians, Egyptians, and Homeric Greeks), it would be very surprising indeed if the Hebrews alone disbelieved in the conscious existence of the soul after death. Highly significant in this connection is King David's statement about the little son whose death had just been announced to him (2 Sam. 12:23): "I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me." In other words, David knew the infant's life would not return to his body so that he could resume his existence among the living. But David fully expected that he would go to join that little child after he himself passed away.


Again, "go to him" does not imply mere physical nearness to the deceased in their tombs. Asaph, David's contemporary, affirmed in Psalm 73:24 the following: "Thou shalt guide me [O God] with thy counsel, and afterward   receive   me   to   glory"—which seems to mean the glorious presence of God in heaven. There is a similar implication in Psalm 49:15: "But God will redeem my soul from the power of Sheol, for He shall receive me."


One thinks   of   Enoch,   who   after   three hundred years of fellowship with the Lord was taken (the same verb laqah is used in both passages) from this life, without leaving his body behind. The expression "slept   with his fathers" (1 Kings 11:43), which occurs frequently in connection  with obituaries, seems to refer to the believer's body as it awaits evivification in the grave—much like the term "fall asleep" is used occasionally in the New Testament of deceased believers.  This expression contained within it a happy expectation that the dead body would someday be awakened once more. Isaiah 26:19 states: "Your dead will live; their corpses will rise. You who lie in the dust, awake and shout for joy, for your dew is as the dew of the dawn, and the earth will give birth to the   departed  spirits" (NASB).


In the light of the story of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:19-31), there can be little doubt that Jesus believed that the souls of both the wicked and the just lived on in the life beyond and that the humble believer like Lazarus went to a place of blessed comfort and rest where Abraham was. Thus our Lord confirmed the trust of the Old Testament saints, who affirmed, "In thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures forevermore" (Ps. 16:11), which follows that great resurrection verse: "For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption" (v. 10).


How many wives did Esau have, and who were they?

Genesis 26:34 tells us that at the age of forty, Esau married two Hittite women—Judith, daughter of Beeri, and Basemath, daughter of Elon. Since Genesis 36 does not mention Judith at all, we can only conclude that she bore Esau no children; whether she was barren or died young is uncertain. Nevertheless, Judith was wife number one.

Wife number two was, as stated above, Basemath. But since Genesis 36 refers to her as Adah, it would seem that she bore that name as well. (Examples of men and women bearing more than one name are quite numerous in the Old Testament, both among Israelites and among Gentiles.) Since Esau later married a daughter of his uncle Ishmael, who was likewise named Basemath (apparently a common name in the Edomite region back in those days; Solomon also gave that name to one of his daughters [1 Kings 4:15]), it became expedient to call the former Basemath by her other name, Adah. She bore him one son, Eliphaz (36:4).

Wife number three was Oholi-bamah, daughter of Zibeon, a Hivite. We are given no information as to when he married her or under what circumstances. We only know that her father's name was Anah, the son of Zibeon. (Zibeon was therefore her grandfather rather than her father— as one might have gathered from Genesis 26:34. Hebrew has no technical term for grandparents or grand-children; it simply uses the terms for "father" or "mother" for grandparent and "son" or "daughter" for grandchild.) Presumably Esau married Oholibamah before he married Ishmael's daughter Basemath. By Oholibamah Esau had three sons: Jesuh, Jalam, and Korah—in that order.

Wife number four was Basemath, daughter of Ishmael, who bore him just one son, Reuel (Re'u'el, probably pronounced "Raguel"—the same name as that of Jethro, Moses' father-in-law [cf. Exod. 2:18; Num. 10:29]). It should be added that this Basemath also had a second name: Mahalath (cf. Gen. 28:9). But apparently she (or Esau) preferred Basemath (with its fragrant connotation, in the masculine form bosem, of "balsam"), for so she is always referred to in Genesis 36.

This, then, constitutes the full list of Esau's wives and the sons they bore to him. Esau is also referred to in Genesis 36 as "the father of Edom" (vv.9,43), but in this case "father of" is equivalent to "founder of"—just as Jacob was the founder of the nation Israel.

Perhaps it is worth noting that the recurrence of favorite or fashionable names is reflected throughout Genesis 36 as characteristic of that Horite-Hivite culture into which Esau married down in the Edomite region. There are at least five examples of this, including the two wives named Base-math just mentioned.

First is Anah, the son of Zibeon, mentioned above as the father of Oholibamah. The Masoretic text actually reads bat ("daughter of") both in 36:2 and 36:14. But this appears to be a scribal error for ben ("son of"), because all the other parents referred to in these genealogical chains are always male rather than female (perhaps the scribal abbreviation for B-N [ben] was so close to B-T [bat] as to be confusing). It is highly significant that the Samaritan Hebrew text here does read B-N ("son of") rather than B-T ("daughter of"), and the Greek Sep-tuagint (LXX) and Syriac Peshitta do the same. We note also that in v.24 a son of Zibeon son of Seir (v.20) was given the name Anah. While it is not uncommon for a nephew to be named after his uncle (which is what Anah son of Zibeon the Hivite would be to him), it is most unusual for a nephew to be named after his aunt. Therefore we conclude that the older Anah was indeed male rather than a female.

Second, the name Zibeon, as just noted above, was originally borne by the grandfather of Oholibamah, the wife of Esau. So far as we know, there was no blood relationship between Zibeon the son of Seir the Horite and Zibeon the Hivite, except by a distant in-law relationship, perhaps, through their common connection to Esau through marriage.

Third, the name Oholibamah was borne not only by the daughter o Anah who married Esau but also by daughter of the  younger  (nephew Anah (36:25). These were names tha tended to recur in the same family line.

Fourth, the name of Timna was borne by the daughter of Seir who became a concubine to Eliphaz, the son of Esau by Basemath-Adah (36:12,22). It was also the name of a descendant of Esau whose paternity is not given but who is listed as a "chieftain" of Edom in a later generation (36:40). In this case, then, a male descendant was given the same name as a related female of an earlier century. Another remarkable example of this was a later chieftain of Edom named Oholibamah (v.41). This last example is all the more remarkable since it ends with the feminine -ah, which is not often to be found in a man's name. (The numerous masculine names ending in -iah— Isaiah, Jeremiah, Zechariah, etc.—are not feminine endings at all but a shortened form of Yahweh, the covenant name of God.)

One other pair of names is nearly identical: Dishon and Dishan (36:21). Names that end in -an in Aramaic, Arabic, or Akkadian generally appear as -on (by the so-called Canaanite shift, which tended to round off an original long a as an o in Hebrew and the other Canaanite dialects). Seir seems to have had a great fondness for this name pattern and hence used it on two different sons of his with a mere difference in the final vowel.

When was Rachel given to Jacob—after Leah's bridal week or after the fourteen-year contract with Laban had been completed? 

From Genesis 29:27 it seems quite clear that Rachel was given to Jacob seven or eight days after his marriage to Leah: "Complete the bridal week of this one," Laban said to Jacob, "and we will give you the other also for the service which you shall serve with me for another seven years (NASB). It is true that the word rendered "bridal week" literally means only "week" (or even "heptad"); yet it is also true that apart from Daniel 9:24-27, it is not demonstrable that this word ever means anything other than a week of days in the Old Testament.

The subsequent narrative strongly suggests (in Gen. 30) that the two sisters were competing with each other simultaneously in the matter of childbearing, and that Leah was carrying off all the honors in this context, until finally, after years of trying, Rachel gave birth to Joseph. Not until after that event is mention made of the final period during which Jacob worked to earn livestock rather than wives (Gen. 30:25-32; 31:38).

How could God bless the conduct of Jacob and the lying of Rachel (Gen. 31)?

The evidence is very slight indeed that God "blessed the lying of Rachel." As a matter of fact, she did not live a very long time after the episode at Gilead but died at childbirth, while being delivered of her second child, Benjamin (Gen. 35:16-19). This could have allowed her only a few years of life after her useless and pointless theft of her father's household idols—which must have ended up with all the other idols carried about by Jacob's household, under the oak tree near Shechem (v.4).

As for the "conduct of Jacob," God continued to bless him, despite his devious and crafty ways, because He saw in him the makings of a true man of faith. It was only God's own providence that enabled Jacob to overcome the devious deceptions practiced on him by Laban, who foisted his eldest daughter on him (probably after making him so drunk that by the time he got to bed he could not tell one woman from another) instead of giving him the girl he really loved. After fourteen years Laban had left his son-in-law penniless, and had entered into an agreement about wages during Jacob's final six or seven years with him—with the hope and expectation of overreaching him and keeping him poor. As Jacob said to Laban, in their confrontation at Gilead: "I served you fourteen years for your two daughters, and six years for your flock, and you changed my wages ten times. If the God of my father... had not been for me, surely now you would have sent me away empty-handed" (Gen. 31:41-42, NASB).

Jacob was not simply expressing his own viewpoint. Genesis 31:12 records the statement of God's angel: "I have seen all that Laban has been doing to you" (NASB). It is clear from the following verses that Jacob's use of striped branches to induce controlled breeding among the sheep was prepared by God and made effectual for the purpose in the interests of fairness and justice. It is true that in this case the overreacher, Laban, was himself over-reached through the wise maneuvers of Jacob, who finally learned how to cope with him. Only in this way could Jacob have built up an estate and thus had wealth to transfer to his ancestral home when he and his family could finally get away from Padan Aram and settle at last in Palestine.

Laban's complaint that Jacob acted unfairly by not telling him he was planning to leave, thus denying him a chance to stage a farewell banquet, could hardly have expressed his true intention. He loudly protested that he was kindly disposed toward them all and would have given them a royal sendoff, but there is no evidence whatever that he would have done so. On the contrary, Jacob had good reason to fear him and to keep his intended departure a carefully guarded secret; thus Jacob said to him, "Because 1 was afraid, for I said, 'Lest you would take your daughters from me by force'" (Gen. 31:31, NASB). There is no reason to doubt that he would have done so, for vv. 1-2 make it clear that Laban had developed considerable suspicion and hostility toward Jacob because of the attrition of his livestock. It was sheer hypocrisy for him to claim that he would have granted them a gracious dismissal.

To sum the matter up, it is true that Jacob never notified his father-in-law about his intended departure; and in that sense Jacob deceived Laban the Syrian, by not telling him that he was fleeing. Nevertheless he told no overt lie, so far as the biblical record goes; and he withheld information concerning his imminent departure only because he was positive that Laban would never let him go voluntarily. He would have been sure to compel him to remain with him even after tensions and hostilities had arisen between Jacob and Laban's sons (Gen. 31:1) and the atmosphere had become too tense for Jacob to remain there in safety and harmony. The withholding of information is not quite the same thing as lying. (Jesus certainly committed no sin by choosing to remain silent in front of Herod Antipas in Jerusalem [Luke 23:9]. In that sense He withheld information from Herod, information Herod would have appreciated.) The unusual circumstances dictated to Jacob the wisdom of departure without prior notification; otherwise they never could have gotten away, and God's promise to Jacob in Genesis 28:15 would have failed of fulfillment. Therefore the answer to the question "How could God bless the conduct of Jacob?" is "Because God is just and faithful to His children, even His less-than-perfect children."

Why is Genesis 31:49 referred to as the Mizpah "benediction"? Was it really intended as a blessing; or was it an expression of mistrust between Laban and Jacob, involving an appeal to God to ensure that both parties kept their agreement with each other? 

A careful reading of Genesis 31:22-48 indicates the following background to this remarkable verse: "The Lord watch between me and thee, when we are absent one from another." Laban had caught up to Jacob after he had surreptitiously fled from Padanaram, and he rebuked Jacob for leaving without giving him a chance even to say goodby to his daughters, Leah and Rachel. Laban then made a thorough but unsuccessful search for his missing teraphim (idols or family gods), which actually had been stolen by Rachel. Jacob, unaware of this theft, then proceeded to rebuke his father-in-law sternly, recalling how many times Laban had tried to cheat him in the years gone by, continually changing the employment contract in his own (Laban's) favor.

The result was a stand-off between the two; so they decided to erect a pile of rocks as a witness to a new compact of mutual nonaggression. Laban gave it the Aramaic name of "Jegar-sahadutha" (rockpile of witness); and Jacob gave it the Hebrew equivalent "Galeed" (Gilead). They also called it "Mizpah" (watchtower), saying, "The Lord watch [a form of the verb sapah, from which the term mispah is derived] between me and thee, when we are absent from one another." This served as a testimony that neither Laban nor Jacob would pass beyond this boundary marker with intent to do the other any harm (Gen. 31:52).

Since the two sons of Jacob—Ephraim and Manasseh—were listed with the twelve tribes of Israel, the true number of tribes involved seems to have been thirteen. Why, then, does the Bible continue to speak of them as the Twelve Tribes rather than the Thirteen? Which tribe was left out in this reckoning? 

There were actually only twelve sons of Jacob, not thirteen. But in Genesis 48:22 Jacob granted to Joseph a double portion of his inheritance rather than the single portion that each of Jacob's other eleven sons was to receive. This meant that, in effect, while there would be no tribe of Joseph as such, there would be two Joseph tribes: the tribe of Ephraim and the tribe of Manasseh. In other words, Ephraim was tribe A of Joseph and Manasseh was tribe B of Joseph.

On the other hand, the tribe of Levi was to serve as the priestly tribe and was to care for the spiritual welfare of all the rest of the tribes. Therefore, the tribe of Levi was to receive no tribal territory as such (Levites were distributed in designated cities and towns throughout Canaan after its conquest). This would have meant that there would be only eleven tribal territories rather than twelve, were it not for the fact that there were two Joseph tribes to make up for the subtraction of Levi from the number of   landholding tribes. Yet it was God's purpose that Israel should consist of twelve tribes rather than merely eleven. The double honor granted to Joseph by giving him—through his sons—a double inheritance came to him because of his outstanding services in preserving his whole family from death in time of famine and for supplying them with a haven of refuge in the land of the Nile.

How are the blessings and predictions in Genesis 49 and Deuteronomy 33 to be harmonized with each other?

Genesis 49 was a divine revelation to Jacob near the end of his life (ca. 1860 B.C.). Deuteronomy 33 was composed by Moses 455 years later (ca. 1405). Therefore Jacob's prophecy reflected a longer span of years than that of Moses, so far as the future career of Israel was concerned. Furthermore, Moses' song of blessing contained for the most part prayers for future blessing that expressed his hopeful desires but fell short of the status of actual predictions. These factors should be borne in mind as we compare the two passages in their bearing on each of the Twelve Tribes. For the sake of convenience, we shall follow the order of Genesis 49 in dealing with the various tribes, rather than the somewhat different order in Deuteronomy 33, which is the later oracle.


Reuben's tribe is not to enjoy preeminence over the other tribes, despite his status of primogeniture (Gen. 49:4). Moses offers a prayer for his future survival as a tribe, and the hope that his descendants will be numerous enough to stand their ground (Deut. 33:6). As a matter of fact, the tribe of Reuben was one of the first to be overcome; for it was apparently subjugated by Moab in the ninth century, as the Mesha Stone inscription makes clear (ANET, Pritchard, p. 320). Medeba, Baal-meon, Kiryathaim, and Dibon were all in the tribe of Reuben according to the original apportionment under Joshua.


This tribe will, along with Levi, be dispersed, or scattered among the other tribes (Gen. 49:5-7). There is no mention of Simeon at all in Deuteronomy 33. Although the population of Simeon was quite substantial (59,300 men at arms) at the time of the Exodus (Num. 1:23), it later proved unable to maintain its strength and numbers after settlement in the semiarid region assigned to it south and southwest of Judah. It therefore was, for all practical purposes, absorbed by Judah as its defender and ally even before the reign of King Saul. And yet its original identity was not completely forgotten, since even in David's time there was a Shephatiah placed by him in charge of the Simeonites(l Chron. 27:16).


Jacob included Levi with Simeon in a common prediction of dispersion among the tribes of Israel (Gen. 49: 5-7). As it turned out, however, the Levites were scattered throughout all Israel in forty-eight Levitical cities, in order to teach the twelve land-possessing tribes the statutes of the Lord. It was by no means the result of attrition and declining numbers that they were so scattered but rather part of the Lord's plan for the spiritual nourishment of the whole commonwealth. Deuteronomy 33 exalts the holy status of the tribe of Levi as the priestly tribe—an exaltation that Jacob apparently did not foresee—charged with the responsibility of teaching Israel the law of the Lord and of presenting incense and burnt offerings before Him. (There is no contradiction between these two prophecies but only a gracious transmutation of Levi's landless condition into a matter of high privilege as the leading tribe in the spiritual life of the nation.)


Genesis 49:8-12 portrays Judah as a lionlike battle champion and as the tribe ordained to royal status as ruler over the whole nation, starting from the time of the first Judean king (namely David) until the coming of Shiloh, the Messiah. Deuteronomy 33 contains no predictions concerning Judah's future but only a prayer that the Lord will help him to overcome his adversaries.


Genesis 49:13 foretells the location of this tribe near the shore, affording a convenient passage for the cargoes of the ships unloading at the docks of the Mediterranean coast for transport to the Sea of Galilee and transshipment up to Damascus and beyond. While Zebulun was located on neither coast, the Valley of Jezreel afforded an excellent highway for imported goods to be conveyed to the most important inland markets. Its northern border would point in the direction of the great commercial cities of Phoenicia, of which Sidon was then the leading emporium. As for Deuteronomy 33:18-19, nothing more definite is said of Zebulun than he will "rejoice" in his "going forth."


Genesis 49:14-15 foresees the time when the hardworking, industrious people of this tribe will be subjected to foreign servitude—along with the rest of Israel and Samaria—which took place in 732 b.c, when Tiglath-pileser III annexed this territory to the Assyrian Empire and made it directly subservient to Assyrian rulers (cf. 2 Kings 15:29; Isa. 9:1). Deuteronomy 33:18-19 looks forward to an earlier and more glorious stage of Issachar's future, when Deborah and Barak—who were natives of this tribe (Judg. 5:15)—would summon Israel's defenders to gather on the mountain (i.e., Mount Tabor (Judg. 4:12]), from which they would charge down against the armies of Jabin and Sisera and put them to flight. Like Zebulun, Issachar would also enjoy the benefits of being located along the major trade route of the Valley of Jezreel, thus dealing with the commerce of the Mediterranean as well as the good fishing of the Sea of Galilee ("the abundance of the seas"). But, of course, this prosperous condition of Issachar prior to the period of the Assyrian invasions had to give way to a new era of servitude, after the capitulation of Samaria to the Assyrians in 732. Ten years later Samaria was captured and consigned to destruction, and Israel was dragged away into permanent exile in the Middle East 2 Kings 17:6).


Genesis 49:16-18 foretells the career of Samson (although he is not mentioned by name, of course) as one of the best-known "judges" of Israel. (The name "Dan" comes from the root din, "to judge.") But then it mentions the vicious aggression that Dan—or at least a migrating portion of it—would display, snapping at its victims like a poisonous serpent. This refers to that rather sordid episode related in Judges 18, where a Danite expeditionary force of six hundred robbed Micah the Ephraimite of his silver idol and his hired priest and took them off with them northward. They then fell on the city of Laish, without provocation or warning of any sort, and butchered all its inhabitants before taking over the city for their own, renaming it Dan. As for Deuteronomy 33:22, it simply describes Dan as a leaping lion—which certainly has been illustrated above.


Genesis 49:19 indicates that Gad in its Transjordanian location will be subject to invasions and raids but will summon up the strength to put the aggressors to flight. Deuteronomy 33 enlarges on the theme of successful resistance and represents the Gadite warriors as bold like lions and as the instruments of God's justice inflicted on the guilty. The principal fulfillment in view here must have been that freebooter turned patriot named Jephthah. It was he who later turned back the Ammonite invaders and meted out severe punishment to those Ephraimite warriors that had sent no help during the Ammonite invasion. These Ephraimites felt so aggrieved that they had not been especially summoned to help out in routing the Ammonites that they made an issue of it before Jephthah, and they ended up being slaughtered by the fords of the Jordan (Judg. 12:4-6).


Genesis 49:20 speaks only of the future prosperity of this northern tribe; they will enjoy rich food, even "royal dainties." Deuteronomy 33:24-25 enlarges on this theme of prosperity, speaking of their abundance of oil and their fine gate-bars fashioned of bronze and iron (which were the most expensive kind). They will, in fact, surpass all the other tribes in their material plenty; and they will enjoy freedom from the devastation of war. (It was not until the debacle of 732 that Asher was invaded and taken over by the Assyrian Empire.)


Genesis 49:21 states that Naphtali will be like a doe let loose and will enjoy the eloquence of words. In other words, this tribe will enjoy a relatively free and easy life and cultivate the arts of literature and public speech.

Deuteronomy 33:23 lays more emphasis on the enrichment from fishing and commerce—largely that which came from the Sea of Galilee and the inland route from Phoenicia in the north. They will extend their influence to the regions south of them (i.e., Zebulun, Issachar, and Manasseh). Presumably this involved happy trade relationships with their kinsmen to the south.


It is interesting that in both passages the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh (which itself was subdivided into two half-tribes) should have been treated as a single tribe, both in the predictions of Jacob and in the Song of Moses. Since the division into three separate tribal holdings took place after the conquest under Joshua, it may reasonably be concluded that neither chapter was composed after the tribal division had taken place (as liberal scholars unthinkingly assume). It should be remembered, however, that this establishment of Joseph's two sons as tribal progenitors was occasioned by the blessing of Jacob himself, as recorded in Genesis 48. It was his decision to give Joseph the double portion of his inheritance, rather than to Reuben his firstborn (Gen. 48:13-22).

Genesis 49:22-26 predicts the future prosperity and fruitfulness of the Joseph tribes, as they successfully cope with their Canaanite enemies in securing their alloted portions in the forested uplands of the center of Palestine. The "archers" who shoot at Joseph may refer to the chariot troops of the coastal Canaanites as well as those who were headquartered in Bethshean (Josh. 17:15-18). Judges 1:22-25 tells of the successful attack by the Ephraimites against Bethel (whose walls were doubtless manned by many an archer). Another possibility, favored by some writers, is that the "archers"  were  invading  Egyptian  troops who kept control of the most important trade routes and strategic fortress cities at various times during the period of the Judges, particularly during the reigns of Seti I (1320-1300) and Rameses the Great (1299-1234). In the earlier Tell el-Amarna correspondence (1400-1370), the Canaanite kings continually plead for the Pharaoh to send them "archers" (pi-da-ti) from his regular army in order to bolster their defenses against the invading Habiru (or SA.GAZ) (cf. Pritchard, ANET, p. 488). Whatever explanation we adopt for these archers, they were to be successfully dealt with by the men of Ephraim through the help of the Lord. The Ephraimites would also be blessed with a good rainfall and abundant crops ("blessings of the deep that lies beneath" [v.25]). Ephraim is to be a tribe notably distinguished above his brethren, a promise fulfilled by the splendid leadership of Joshua the son of Nun, an Ephraimite. (This verse by itself demonstrates the impossibility of dating Gen. 49 at any time later than the reign of Solomon, since no Judean author would have included such high praise of the arch rival of Judah in any such fashion as this.)

As for Deuteronomy 33:13-17, Moses predicts that Joseph's land will be blessed by the Lord with abundant rain and crops from a fertile soil. The surrounding hills will pour down their streams on the plowed fields to give them good harvests. By the special favor of the God who spoke to Moses from the burning bush, the warriors of Ephraim and Manasseh will be enabled to repel and subdue their foes. Thus we see an essential agreement between the two chapters in regard to the future of these two tribes.


Genesis 49:27 refers briefly to the fierceness and courage of this small tribe: it is like a ravenous wolf who devours the prey and divides the spoil. (Perhaps this foretells the prowess of Benjamin in holding off the troops of the other eleven tribes during the Benjamite War [Judg. 20], until finally they themselves were ambushed near Gibeah and almost completely annihilated, except for the six hundred who escaped.) But in Deuteronomy 33:12 Moses offers a prayer on Benjamin's behalf that God may show His love to, him by protecting him night and day. Yet it should be understood that there is a substantial difference between a prediction and a prayer. Moses prayed for Benjamin's security and protection; but that prayer provided no guarantee that God's loving concern and care would extend into the indefinite future, if Benjamin should ever forsake its covenant obligations toward the Lord and fall into gross sin.

As long as they were obedient and faithful, the Benjamites certainly did enjoy God's deliverance—as in the example of Ehud, the patriot who managed to kill Eglon, king of Moab, by resorting to a ruse. Ehud was enabled to escape the Moabite guards and flee-to safety in the hill country of Ephraim, where he gathered about him an army of courageous patriots and smashed the Moabite troops to regain Israel's independence (Judg. 3:15-30). But in later years, when the infamous atrocity was committed in Gibeah and the rest of the tribe of Benjamin rallied to protect the degenerate sodomites who had raped the Levite's concubine to death, the protecting favor of God was necessarily withdrawn. The rest of the tribes of Israel finally succeeded in avenging the dastardly crime, even though it meant wiping out almost the entire tribe of Benjamin (Judg. 20), as mentioned above.

Yet favor of the Lord was restored to the Benjamites after their wickedness had been thoroughly dealt with. Their six hundred survivors returned to fellowship with Israel and Israel's God; and they so increased in numbers that by Saul's time (the eleventh century b.c.) they were once again a force to be reckoned with. It was from this smallest, severely battered tribe that God chose out the first king of the United Monarchy of Israel: Saul the son of Kish (1 Sam. 9-10). Thus it was that the Lord answered Moses' prayer to the extent that He was able to do so without compromising His own integrity and holiness.

We conclude this comparative study with the observation that no real discrepancies or contradictions can be found between the prophecy of Jacob in Genesis 49 and the prayer of Moses in Deuteronomy 33.


Is Genesis 49:10 really a prediction of Christ? What is the real meaning of Shiloh?

Genesis 49:10 appears in a stanza of Jacob's prophecies concerning his twelve sons; Judah is dealt with in vv. 8-12. That tribe is presented in a particularly warlike aspect, with such traits as "Your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies" (v.8, NASB) and "Judah is a lion's whelp.... as a lion, who dares rouse him up?" (v.9, NASB). Verse 10 emphasizes the coming role of Judah as the royal leader over all the tribes of Israel, and possibly over foreign nations as well. It reads as follows: "The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until Shiloh comes, and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples ['amtnim]" (NASB). The greatest stress is laid on the military prowess and kingly status of this royal tribe, and there is a clear affirmation that this kingly status is to continue until the appearance of a key figure referred to as "Shiloh." The scepter and lawgiver's staff will be wielded by this tribe until the arrival of Shiloh himself.

But the question arises, Who or what is Shiloh? The Aramaic Targum renders v.10 as follows: "Until the Messiah comes, to whom the kingdom belongs." This seems to identify Shiloh as a title of the Messiah, but it also points to an interpretation of this name that involves the phrase "who to him" or "to whom." The Septuagint, dating from the third century B.C., renders the clause "until there come the things laid up [apokeimena] for him." This suggests that siloh was interpreted with a different vowel pointing, as sello ("one to whom"). The second-century A.D. Greek translations of Aquila and Symmachus construe it more succintly as "[the one] for whom it has been stored up," or: reserved, using the same Greek verb but in the form apokeitai. Jerome's Latin Vulgate derived it (incorrectly) from the verb salah ("to send") and translated it as "the one ' who is to be sent" (qui mittendus est).

It is fair to say, however, that the preponderance of modern authorities, both conservative and nonconservative, tend to prefer the explanation "the one to whom [it belongs]" and make the coming ruler the antecedent, understanding the "scepter" as the object that belongs to him. In other words, they render the clause thus: "The scepter shall not depart from Judah ... until He comes to whom it belongs; and to Him shall be the obedience of the peoples." But whether the word is understood to be a mystical name for the Messiah (somewhat like the name Jeshurun for the nation Israel [Deut, 32:15]), or whether it is a relative phrase "who to him" (sello), it clearly refers to the Messiah, and possibly also to David, the ancestral type of Christ the King. (But to relate this promise to David raises the formidable difficulty that the scepter did not really depart from Judah when David came; on the contrary, it only began to be wielded by Judah when he assumed the throne and crown of the kingdom of Israel.)

We should not close this discussion without mentioning a most intriguing parallel passage in Ezekiel 21:27 that appears to be a reflection of Genesis 49:10: "A ruin, a ruin, a ruin, I shall make it [i.e., Jerusalem, about to be attacked by Nebuchadnessar in 588  B.C.]. This also will be no more [or else "will not happen' (lo hayah)], until He comes whose right it is [lit., "who to him the judgment" ('aser hammispat)]; and I shall give it to Him" (NASB). The similarity in wording can scarcely be an accident, aser lo is the normal prose equivalent of sello ("who to him"). In Ezekiel's statement we find hammispat ("the right of judgment"), replacing the kindred concept of "scepter" (sibet) in Genesis 49:10. If, therefore, Ezekiel 21:27 is intended to build on the foundation of Genesis 49:10 and reveal its ultimate application to the Messiah—as it certainly seems to do in Ezekiel—who will be descended from the royal house of Judah, then we are on firm ground in understanding Genesis 49:10 as intended by God to refer to His divine Son, the messianic descendant of David.