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eTeacherBiblical Official Newsletter
Issue #72 - 03/11
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The servants in the book of Genesis

 The first time in The Hebrew bible that we hear about servants appears in the end of the story, when we are told about the drinking problem of the hero of the flood story, Noah. Noah just discovered that his son, Shem, or his grandson Canaan, saw him naked (the sages of Israel claimed that the sinner had  a sexual relationship with Noah or emasculated him!) and he decided to curse the sinner in these words:
Noah and his family

 
" וַיֹּאמֶר, אָרוּר כְּנָעַן:  עֶבֶד עֲבָדִים, יִהְיֶה לְאֶחָיו.  וַיֹּאמֶר, בָּרוּךְ יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵי שֵׁם;

   וִיהִי כְנַעַן, עֶבֶד לָמוֹ. 

יַפְתְּ אֱלֹהִים לְיֶפֶת, וְיִשְׁכֹּן בְּאָהֳלֵי-שֵׁם; וִיהִי כְנַעַן, עֶבֶד לָמוֹ"

 

"He said, “Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers.”  He also said, “Praise be to the LORD, the God of Shem! May Canaan be the slave of Shem. May God extend Japheth’s territory; may Japheth live in the tents of Shem, and may Canaan be the slave of Japheth.” (Genesis 9:25-27)
 

These three verses above are important, because it is one of the only places in The Scriptures that the firstborn is having the preference and the advantage over his brothers. These verses created three social classes, according to the names of Noah's sons, whose names here reflect three groups. The last group would be the slaves or the servants of the first two. Shem will be the first, Japheth, who was born after Ham will come before him.
 

The second important time in the book of Genesis relates to the tension between the twins, Jacob and Esau. We all know that Esau was the firstborn who lost his blessing to his younger brother Jacob in Genesis 27. There is a beautiful word play in  the Biblical Hebrew between the birthright ( bechorah) and blessing (beracha). One way or the other, once the younger took the blessing of the firstborn, another division was made between two groups: the Israelites and the Edomites, as we can read in Isaac' words:

Jacob and Esau

 
"וַיַּעַן יִצְחָק וַיֹּאמֶר לְעֵשָׂו, הֵן גְּבִיר שַׂמְתִּיו לָךְ וְאֶת-כָּל-אֶחָיו נָתַתִּי לוֹ לַעֲבָדִים ... וּלְכָה אֵפוֹא, מָה אֶעֱשֶׂה בְּנִי"

 

 

 

"Isaac answered Esau, “I have made him lord over you and have made all his relatives his servants ... So what can I possibly do for you, my son?” (Genesis 27:37)
 

The next case of "servants" is when Joseph's brothers are making his dream to come true. Joseph was dreaming  two dreams, that caused his brothers to hate him even more, as we can read in Genesis 37:6-10-

Joseph" וַיֹּאמֶר, אֲלֵיהֶם:  שִׁמְעוּ-נָא, הַחֲלוֹם הַזֶּה אֲשֶׁר חָלָמְתִּי.  וְהִנֵּה אֲנַחְנוּ מְאַלְּמִים אֲלֻמִּים, בְּתוֹךְ הַשָּׂדֶה, וְהִנֵּה קָמָה אֲלֻמָּתִי, וְגַם-נִצָּבָה; וְהִנֵּה תְסֻבֶּינָה אֲלֻמֹּתֵיכֶם, וַתִּשְׁתַּחֲוֶיןָ לַאֲלֻמָּתִי.  וַיֹּאמְרוּ לוֹ, אֶחָיו, הֲמָלֹךְ תִּמְלֹךְ עָלֵינוּ, אִם-מָשׁוֹל תִּמְשֹׁל בָּנוּ; וַיּוֹסִפוּ עוֹד שְׂנֹא אֹתוֹ, עַל-חֲלֹמֹתָיו וְעַל-דְּבָרָיו.  וַיַּחֲלֹם עוֹד חֲלוֹם אַחֵר, וַיְסַפֵּר אֹתוֹ לְאֶחָיו; וַיֹּאמֶר, הִנֵּה חָלַמְתִּי חֲלוֹם עוֹד, וְהִנֵּה הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ וְהַיָּרֵחַ וְאַחַד עָשָׂר כּוֹכָבִים, מִשְׁתַּחֲוִים לִי.  וַיְסַפֵּר אֶל-אָבִיו, וְאֶל-אֶחָיו, וַיִּגְעַר-בּוֹ אָבִיו, וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ מָה הַחֲלוֹם הַזֶּה אֲשֶׁר חָלָמְתָּ:  הֲבוֹא נָבוֹא, אֲנִי וְאִמְּךָ וְאַחֶיךָ, לְהִשְׁתַּחֲו‍ֹת לְךָ, אָרְצָה"
 

 

"He said to them, “Listen to this dream I had: We were binding sheaves of grain out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered around mine and bowed down to it.” His brothers said to him, “Do you intend to reign over us? Will you actually rule us?” And they hated him all the more because of his dream and what he had said. Then he had another dream, and he told it to his brothers. “Listen,” he said, “I had another dream, and this time the sun and moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” When he told his father as well as his brothers, his father rebuked him and said, “What is this dream you had? Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow down to the ground before you?”

Joseph's dreams came true and his brothers bowed to him, when he was in Egypt, Judah the forth son of Jacob was speaking with him as his lord (he is calling himself "servant") in the famous speech in Genesis 44, which caused Joseph to reveal himself to his brothers in the beginning of Genesis 45!

From the word servant in the book of Genesis we might learn all the politics issues in the time when The Scriptures was written, we can understand who the master is and who his servants between nations, tribes and brothers is!

 As a Biblical Hebrew teacher I am always explaining that one word in The Scriptures can have different meanings, for example the word servant in the book of Genesis!

 

 
Main phrases of the post + transcription + translation

 

 

Hebrew

Transcription

Translation

עֶבֶד

'ebed

Servant

כְּנַעַן

kəna'an

Canaan

יֶפֶת

yepet

Japheth

יַעֲקֹב

Ya'ăqōb

Jacob

סֵרוּס

sērûs

Emasculation

בְּרָכָה

bərākāh

Blessing

בְּכוֹרָה

kôrāh

Birthright

 

 

 
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