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Category Archives: Canaan

Sarah: Life with Abraham 2

Before continuing: gathering some strands

As is often the case when pursuing a Bible topic or figure, information is found in several sources, and it requires careful investigation to locate and compile the relevant scriptures. The same is true concerning the person of Abram.

For instance, his father is mentioned as an idol-worshipper (Joshua 24:1-5), but it is unclear whether either Abram or his brother Nahor (or Sarai, for that matter) was, though they were brought up in a pagan household. In fact, later in Genesis 26:5, the LORD reminds Isaac that his father “obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.” At some point, the LORD and Abram began a relationship in Ur that lasted an entire lifetime.[1] One can only wonder as to when and how. It’s worth considering that Shem[2] himself may have influenced Abram in some manner since he lived until Abram was about thirty.[3] All that is known for sure is it happened, and that relationship became the dominant thread in the fabric of his life.

Abram and Lot Depart Out of Haran (illustratio...

Abram and Lot Depart Out of Haran (illustration from the 1728 Figures de la Bible) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is the New Testament deacon Stephen who adds a detail not found in Genesis: “And he said, ‘Brethren and fathers, listen: The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Haran, and said to him, ‘Get out of your country and from your relatives, and come to a land that I will show you’” (Acts 7:2-4). While Genesis 11:31 records that Terah, as patriarch, took his clan from Ur intending to go to Canaan, this scripture presents the likelihood that it was done at Abram’s urging as prompted by God’s direction.

Introducing Sarai

According to his genealogy, Terah’s clan consisted of himself, his sons Abram, Nahor, and Haran, two daughters-in-law, Sarai and Milcah, and a grandson, Lot. Nahor’s wife, Milcah, is identified as Haran’s daughter (and Nahor’s cousin). Sarai is later identified as Abram’s half-sister (Genesis 19:12)—they shared the same father but different mothers (neither of whom is named). Was Sarai born to a concubine? Did Abram’s mother die, and Terah remarried? The record is silent.

As a daughter, Sarai’s early years were spent learning household tasks at her mother’s side, or perhaps from a slave or servant. Grinding grain, baking bread, gardening, spinning, weaving, going to market, cooking and preserving foodstuffs, drawing water, perhaps even shepherding if the family had livestock—all these activities would have filled her days.

Fashion and grooming

It’s not surprising to find that type of clothing in Mesopotamia was dictated by social standing. If Terah was wealthy, his daughter wore one-piece woolen or linen garments, stylishly woven with many different patterns and designs. Embroidered and tasseled wraps and shawls protected her in bad weather. Men and women either went barefoot or wore sandals; women’s footwear was often ornamented.

Both sexes were known to wear cosmetics, outlining their eyes with a form of mascara; and both applied perfumes (“made by steeping aromatic plants in water and blending their essence with oil”[4]) after the none-too-frequent bath. Grooming and appearance were important.[5]

Courtship

The relationship between Abram and Sarai began from the day she was born. If the genealogy presented is complete, the family was small by ancient standards—only three boys and a girl—and the sibling bonds were likely quite strong. He had always been a part of her life. He might have been one of the first to see his baby sister wrapped in swaddling clothes or the like, nursing at her mother’s breast, and, as the firstborn, felt especially protective of her from that day forward.

As Abram grew into a mature man (he was ten years older than Sarai), he watched his sister develop into a strikingly beautiful young woman, one whose beauty would last for decades, and probably in his eyes, until the day she died. While marriages arranged by parents were practical matters involving bride-prices, dowries, property and lineage, one can suspect that a strong romantic attraction evident early on between these two influenced Terah to choose this pairing, and not one outside the immediate family. That, and, more certainly, the direction of an unseen Hand guiding events according to a yet-to-be-revealed master plan. [6]

Marriage

According to Mesopotamian custom, weddings occasioned rejoicing and celebration lasting for days or even weeks. Also by custom, the newly married couple was expected to live with either the bride’s or the groom’s family[7] (in case of Abram and Sarai, nothing would have changed).

Dreaded words

What had been a happy beginning eventually changed into a life of growing frustration. Months of hopeful expectation turned to years of disappointment. There was seemingly no escaping their dreadful predicament—one fraught with intense longing, and for her especially, a loss of face: “But Sarai was barren; she had no child” (Genesis 11:10).

A woman in Sumer had certain legal rights—owning property, engaging in business, or appearing as a witness. But when it came to a binding marriage, a husband could divorce his wife easily for little cause, and if she had no children, he was free to marry a second wife. Perhaps a not-so-obvious testimony to Abram’s devotion is that there is no record of his considering any such options. (The episode with Hagar was at an impatient Sarai’s request. See Genesis 16:2). What an emotional hurdle for a young couple to face in a society where fecundity was everything! — KM

Next time: Abram, God, and life on the move

When Abram took Sarai as his wife, neither of them knew what lay ahead, nor how a series of promises would affect their long and eventful years together.  

 

 

[1] It is likely there were pockets of people who maintained a worship of God through Shem’s subsequent generations, and that practice could have been passed on Abram. A more generally accepted scenario is simply that God called Abram out of the paganism of which he had been an adherent.

[2] In Genesis 9:26, Noah refers to God as “the God of Shem,” indicating Shem’s allegiance to Him.

[3] There are several websites with charts of genealogies and time spans from Noah to Moses. Here are just a few: http://biblefocus.net/message/Adam-Shem-Abraham-bible-genealogy/index.html

http://www.agapebiblestudy.com/charts/Generations%20Adam-Moses.htm

http://books.google.com/books?id=lV3VfSVNHNEC&pg=PA98&lpg=PA98&dq=was+shem+alive+when+abraham+was+born&source=bl&ots=SQF4wO3dJi&sig=2qPrrfYu3DXDrZVSMsaUTqrscBA&hl=en&sa=X&ei=wUnuU_3kH-e8gHy1YHoCw&ved=0CCkQ6AEwAjgU#v=onepage&q=was%20shem%20alive%20when%20abraham%20was%20born&f=false

[4] S. Bertman, Handbook to Life in Ancient Mesopotamia (2003), p.291, as cited in online article, “Daily Life in Ancient Mesopotamia,” http://www.ancient.eu.com/article/680/, accessed September 2, 2014.

[5] It can’t be known whether Abram and Sarai conformed to such fashion statements of the day. However, if one considers Peter’s exhortation in 1 Peter 3:3, it’s obvious that Sarai’s core beauty did not depend on style and outward appearance but rather, it emanated from her attitude of heart. Also it’s hard to imagine Abram’s being unduly concerned with such transient matters when the LORD was in the process of lifting his vision to a much loftier plane.

[6] One might be inclined to raise an eyebrow given the fact that Abram married a close relative. Wouldn’t that be an incestuous union, and therefore, forbidden? The general consensus is that the law prohibiting such unions was not yet in place; it was enacted during the time of Moses (see Deuteronomy 27:22 and Leviticus 18:6-30; 20:11-12). Another point for consideration is that God accepted this union (and likely arranged it) and performed a miracle to provide an heir from it.

[7] Karen Nemet-Nijat, https://www.academia.edu/873588/Womens_Roles_in_Ancient_Mesopotamia/ , accessed September 2, 2014.

Achsah: The Daughter Who Asked for More, Part 3

Caleb approached his friend, Joshua, with something on his mind. They had experienced many things together since that disastrous spying expedition. At age forty and in his prime, he had been ready to complete the mission entrusted to a covey of spies. Only he and Joshua returned with an encouraging report, and garnered God’s blessing. The rest met an inglorious end, and a quarrelsome Israel found itself consigned to forty years of wandering.

With the passage of time

In spite of the difficulties during those years in the wilderness, the life cycle continued as it always had—births, marriages, families, death—and a new generation emerged to carry out the next objective of entering the promised land. Achsah, Caleb’s little Anklet,[1] had been born during a troublesome time.[2] She’d grown up amid the contentions between the LORD and Israel, watching Caleb and Joshua stand firm in their faithfulness. Her father was a man of integrity.

It took several years, but finally Canaan was subdued. One by one the tribes received their territories by lot, including Caleb’s own, the tribe of Judah.[3] But the faithful spy had been promised more, and he now prepared to present his petition.

A promise to be claimed    

English: Joshua and Caleb; as in Joshua 14:6-1...

English: Joshua and Caleb; as in Joshua 14:6-15; illustration from a Bible card published by the Providence Lithograph Company (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Joshua listened as his trusty companion began to speak.[4] “You remember how we were sent by Moses to spy out the land. And how the ten angered the LORD with their evil report. Because I followed God with my whole heart, Moses made a promise that wherever my feet had gone would be my inheritance. That was forty-five years ago. I’ve come to claim his promise.”

Caleb proceeded to request the very land that had so terrified the anxious spies—the city of Hebron and its surrounds—home to the Anakim.  Reports indicated the displaced giants were attempting to reestablish themselves after Joshua’s initial rout,[5] and the eighty-five-year- old was itching to dispatch them and claim their stronghold as his own. Joshua honored his friend’s petition, affirming it with his blessing.

A prize for the taking

Caleb and his troops wasted no time taking Hebron and driving out Sheshai, Ahiman, Talmai, the sons of Anak.[6]  Satisfied with his conquest, he turned his attention to Debir, some fifteen or so miles to the south. He had plans for this town.

English: Othniel Ben Kenaz is the first of the...

English: Othniel Ben Kenaz is the first of the Biblical Judges. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Word spread quickly about an extraordinary offer: To the man who conquered the formidable Debir, another city of Anak, Caleb promised the hand of his daughter, Achsah, in marriage. Only one man proved worthy—Othniel, his own brother.[7] Cut from the same cloth as his courageous sibling, Othniel won the city, and returned to present his victory as a sort of bride-price[8] for his lovely niece.

It was not as though he was a total stranger. After all, he and Achsah were from the same clan, and relatives; they had experienced the years of wilderness wandering together. Perhaps that fact alone spurred the young man’s ardor for her more than the promise of land. Had her wise father sensed—or perhaps even manipulated—the outcome in advance? Othniel was indeed a fine man.

A dowry of land

True to his word, Caleb gave Achsah to Othniel, and looked on as the young bridegroom and his entourage took her from the family compound to begin a new home. Her dowry[9] consisted not of the customary money or jewelry, but rather, of a piece of land. How many fathers of the day would give such a treasure to a daughter?

There was just one problem—one of considerable magnitude. The parcel he had given to her had no water source—a vital necessity for the productivity of the arid terrain. Achsah expected to grow gardens there, and even maintain some livestock.  She would need more water than cisterns could supply. So she and Othniel devised a plan.

A new wife with a mission 

English: Achsah - "anklet", was Cale...

English: Achsah – “anklet”, was Caleb ben Yefune’s only daughter (1 Chr. 2:49). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Caleb watched the distant figures grow larger until he could clearly see the comely features of his daughter. As her entourage drew close she caught sight of him and quickly dismounted from her donkey, a sign of her enduring respect. After the proper greetings, he listened as Achsah began to speak. This daughter of his was not only beautiful, she had a good head on her shoulders as well. Her husband must have recognized as much, since here she stood before her father, not Othniel, laying out the reason for her visit and presenting their request.

“Father, you gave me a parcel of land, and for that we are grateful,” she began respectfully. “But there is no water. Please give me one blessing more—springs of water.” She was asking for an additional gift, and she carefully avoided any perception of making improper demands on the family land allotment.

The terrain of the Negeb where Debir lay situated ranged from fertile and hilly, to dry and arid. Without proper water, no vegetation could survive, nor could an agricultural endeavor thrive. Instead of challenging her request, and viewing it as a violation of the laws of inheritance, Caleb gave her an adjoining field which contained both upper springs and lower springs,[10] virtually insuring the productivity of her land.

As Achsah returned to her new home, she was secure in the knowledge that her household would be fed, her potential for commerce improved, and her husband’s worth would increase—all because she dared to ask for more.

Afterwards

Some years later Othniel proved himself once again a valiant warrior, moving against the Mesopotamians who had been oppressing Israel. He became the first judge of Israel (Judges 3:7-11).

Scripture records, “So the land had rest for forty years. Then Othniel the son of Kenaz died.” There is no other mention of Achsah.


[1] The Hebrew word for Achsah translates as ankle or anklet. Both men and women of the time wore bracelets. Women often wore ankle bracelets; those who were wealthy adorned themselves with ones made of gold and which often made a tinkling sound as they walked. Perhaps Achsah was a name of endearment chosen by Caleb and his wife at the birth of one who seems to have been his only daughter. According to one rabbinic tradition, Achsah was so beautiful that any man who looked upon her would be angry with his own wife for being less beautiful. For more information, see Illustrated Manners and Customs of the Bible (1980), Packer & Tenny, Eds., p 484.

[2] I feel it likely that Caleb also had sons, but in referencing the genealogies in I Chronicles 2 there are two Calebs who lived several hundred years apart. It proves challenging to distinguish between them with regard to their wives and offspring. So I will err on the side of caution and stick with what the Bible clearly records: Caleb the spy had a daughter named Achsah.

[3] Commentators discuss whether Caleb was fully of the tribe of Judah by ancestry, or included by adoption. See Fausset’s Bible Dictionary, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, and McClintock and Strong Encyclopedia, topic “Caleb.”

[4] What follows is my paraphrase of Joshua 14:6-13.

[5] Some sources comment that possibly the Anakim had reestablished themselves in the environs of Hebron, and thus had to be re-conquered. See Joshua: His Life and Times (circa 1889), William J. Deane, p 142, and Keil and Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament, electronic version (1996), comment on Joshua 14. I have adopted that scenario for this post; however there is not full agreement that this indeed was the case.

[6] Joshua 15: 14

[7] There is much discussion as to Othniel’s relationship to Caleb. Some feel that he was Caleb’s brother or half-brother by a different mother (Deane, p 142; The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Joshua 15:17) while others identify him as a nephew (The Woman’s Study Bible, Joshua 15, profile “Achsah”).

[8] For more on bride-price and marriage customs, please see Mary Hendren’s upcoming post on Rebekah.

[9] According to one source, the dowry remained the woman’s even if she were widowed or divorced. Achsah’s interest in water supply could have future ramifications.

[10] Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary has some interesting comments concerning the possible location of these springs, and their relevance to Arab shepherds. See notes on Joshua 15:19. William Deane (Joshua: His Life and Times) records a citation from Pal. Survey Reports (1874), written by Scottish geologist, JamesGeikie, that “in a secluded valley near Debir there is quite a phenomenal supply of water, fourteen springs in all, some in the upper part of the valley, some in the lower, which never fail in the driest summer; the land thus fertilized became Achsah’s portion” (p 143).

Achsah: The Daughter Who Asked for More

Caleb watched as distant figures, shimmering like a mirage from the arid Negeb, gradually assumed familiar shapes, and he waited. It was his lovely daughter, Achsah, with her new husband. She was no longer under his protective care in the family compound near Hebron. She now dwelled with the one who had won her hand by his acts of bravery and courage—Othneil, slayer of giants, conqueror of Debir. Caleb wondered why they were coming.

How it all began[1]

Over forty years before, Caleb, Joshua, and ten others, leaders all of Israel’s twelve tribes, embarked on a reconnaissance of the land of Canaan, one commissioned by the LORD through Moses. Their mission? Spy out the land, and its inhabitants. Were the Canaanites a people strong, or weak? Many, or few? Did they dwell in fortified strongholds, or tents? Was the land fertile? Were there ample forests for Israel’s needs?

English: Joshua and Caleb, as in Numbers 13

English: Joshua and Caleb, as in Numbers 13 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It was around the month of Elul, the season for the first grape harvest. What better time to bring back samples of the ripening fruit of the land? Above all, Moses exhorted them to be of good courage. Much depended on their findings, as would soon become evident.

The twelve tribal emissaries set out immediately, and for forty days furtively scouted the land, covering some 300 miles[2] before returning to their launch point, Kadesh-barnea. En route they saw date palms, pomegranates, ripening grapes, all thriving in abundance. There was ample pasture for sheep and cattle, and fields suitable for growing barley and wheat. Olive and fruit trees dotted certain regions of countryside. The coastline provided fishing, and perhaps even dye works. Canaan, indeed, was full of resources and promise.

Its inhabitants, however, were an entirely different matter—especially the hulking sons of Anak!

An ill wind

 “We went to the land where you sent us. It truly flows with milk and honey,” the returning  spies reported to eager ears. “Nevertheless the people who dwell in the land are strong; the cities are fortified and very large; moreover, we saw the descendants of Anak there.” Amalekites, Hittites, Jebusites, Amorites, and Canaanites—all formidable and well-armed—would have to be dealt with as well.

Anak! Apprehension swirled through the ranks of Israel. Caleb quieted the people, then exhorted them, saying, “Let us go up at once and take possession, for we are well able to overcome it.” The agitators would have none of it, and retorted, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we. . . . The land through which we have gone as spies is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great stature. There we saw the giants (the descendants of Anak came from the giants); and we were like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight.”

With weeping and wailing, Israel turned on Moses and Aaron, demanding new leaders, and refusing to enter Canaan. Moses and Aaron, in shock and horror, fell on their faces before the unruly assembly, undoubtedly recognizing a grievous affront to the LORD, their Deliverer.

Only two of the twelve, Joshua and Caleb, confronted the growing spirit of revolt, warning the tribes not to rebel against the Lord. They implored them rather to trust that “if the Lord delights in us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us . . . .” Those words only moved the mob to violence, and cries of, “Stone them! Stone them!” filled the air. Little did the tribes of Israel realize that their own fates were sealed in the wake of that murderous intent. The LORD had had enough!

And the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, “How long shall I bear with this evil congregation who complain against Me? I have heard the complaints which the children of Israel make against Me. Say to them, ‘As I live,’ says the LORD, ‘just as you have spoken in My hearing, so I will do to you: The carcasses of you who have complained against Me shall fall in this wilderness, all of you who were numbered, according to your entire number, from twenty years old and above. Except for Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun, you shall by no means enter the land which I swore I would make you dwell in. But your little ones, whom you said would be victims, I will bring in, and they shall know the land which you have despised. But as for you, your carcasses shall fall in this wilderness. And your sons shall be shepherds in the wilderness forty years, and bear the brunt of your infidelity, until your carcasses are consumed in the wilderness. According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land, forty days, for each day you shall bear your guilt one year, namely forty years, and you shall know My rejection. I the LORD have spoken this. I will surely do so to all this evil congregation who are gathered together against Me. In this wilderness they shall be consumed, and there they shall die'”[3] 

To be continued…


[1] Please read Numbers 13 for the entire account.

[2] I estimate that the trip northward was roughly 150 miles based on an atlas scale. The envisioned round-trip could have covered approximately 300 miles using that scale.

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