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7 Letters to the Patriarch: Reliving the Old Testament

Updated on August 2, 2020

The Old Testament books and their historic events are a special source of the beginnings of the people of Israel and of Judaism which gave birth to the Christian religion. In reading the books of the Old Testament one should try not to understand their contents and events in the light of our contemporary times.

A true understanding of the Old Testament will require us to enter into Old Testament situation and cultural milieu. The following seven examples are some of these situations found in the Old Testament that would look awkward in our present times if it was to happen now.

These cases are presented in the conventional letter writing style starting with the “Dear” format. Read the case and think about your response first, before moving on to how the Patriarch unravels the drama and give solutions according to life in the Old Testament.

Case One

Dear Patriarch

I planted a vineyard, drank some wine and became drunk, and laid uncovered inside my tent. My son came in and saw my nakedness and reported to my other sons who came in and cover my nakedness. What should I do?



Dear Noah:

Since your son obviously saw your nakedness and did not cover his face when entering your tent, nor did he cover you, it means he does not honour you. He is a worthless son. I would suggest that you curse him and his generation. Make him a slave of his brothers, he and his descendants.



Case Two

Dear Patriarch

My wife has not been able to get pregnant. I have done everything I can. We desperately want children since without them we are nothing. What should we do?



Dear Abraham

Since your wife is obviously being punished by God and will probably never get pregnant, your only course of action is to take a concubine and have children by her. I would suggest you talk your wife into the idea and have her pick one of her maidservants. That will ease the potential jealousies that are bound to develop.



Case Three

Dear Patriarch

I was given to the master of the household to have children for the family. I am willing to be used in this way; otherwise, I may never have children and my life will be useless.

However, I cannot tolerate the abuse that the wife heaps on me. She is driven by a blind jealousy at my good fortune. She hates me because God has looked upon me with the favour of a child. I am about ready to run away even though I have little hope for sustaining myself or my child. I just cannot bear her continual cruelty to me.



Dear Hagar:

First, realize that part of the problems may stem from you. Do not act in a haughty way, flaunting your fertility and blessing in front of your mistress. Life is difficult enough for her since God has seen fit to punish her by depriving her of children.

Second, do not run from your master and mistress. Tolerate your suffering and God will bless you. You will have so many children you will not be able to count them all.



Case Four

Dear Patriarch

I have two Son Esau and Jacob, but I love Jacob more. My husband is old and blind, and he may die soon. I just heard my husband telling Esau to go hunt an animal and prepare the savoury food he likes, so that he may eat and give Esau his blessing before he dies.

If Esau receives this blessing, he will be greater than Jacob. This cannot be for when I was pregnant I consulted the lord and I was told that two nations are in my womb, and two peoples will be born of me. One will be stronger than the other, and the elder will serve the younger. Please, what should I do?



Dear Rebekah

Since the Lord himself has placed the younger over the elder then anything you do to make it happen will not be considered wrong. I will advise you to deceive your husband and gain the blessing for Jacob instead of Esau.

Prepare the meal yourself and give it to Jacob. Let him impersonate Esau and receive his father’s blessings. Once he has the blessings then he will be greater than Esau. Don’t worry about your husband, he will fall for it. Even if he finds out, nothing will happen because a blessing once given cannot be taken back.



Case Five

Dear Patriarch

I am beginning to lose my relevance in my family. I am the first wife of my husband even though he loves the second wife more. At the beginning I was blessed with children and was well respected while my rival could not bear children.

Now, she gave her maidservant to our husband and she is giving him children while I can no longer bear children again. I have lost my husband’s love and now I am losing my relevance and his respect. What can I do?



Dear Leah

Now that you are temporarily unable to bear children and you are losing your place of honour, it is time you take action and redeem your honour. Go to your husband and give him your maidservant so that the child will pass through your legs and you can claim the child as yours. God may have pity on you and make you conceive again as a reward.



Case Six

Dear Patriarch

My husband, Er, displeased the lord and he was slain. To fulfil the levirate obligation to carry on Er’s name I had to sleep with his brother Onan. But Onan spilled his semen to the ground because he knew the son will not be his. This action displeased God and Onan’s life was taken.

My father in-law does not want to release the youngest son to me claiming that he is still too young. Now I have returned to my father’s house where I am now like a servant, having no husband or children. What should I do?



Dear Tamar

You cannot get pregnant outside the family you were married to. Yet there are just two males in the family, your father in-law and his youngest son who is said to be too young. So, you just have to do something to get a child.

I will suggest you trick your father in-law and get him to your bed. Disguise as a prostitute and seduce him and make him have intercourse with you. You will be condemned when you become pregnant, but if you can prove that you were impregnated by your father in-law, he will be ashamed to bring up charges against you and you won’t be stoned to death.



Case Seven

Dear Patriarch

We have a lovely father. Our father is old and we live in a cave here in Zoar. There are no men here to get us pregnant and if we continue like this, we will have no children and will have no family and the bloodline will cease. What should we do?


Lot’s daughters

Dear Daughters of Lot

Your father is the only male of the family, and you have no husbands and sons. Your father is old now and soon he may die and you both will be left alone. You can have your own sons if you can trick your father and sleep with him. Give him enough wine, when he is drunk, each of you should take turns to have intercourse with him. You both will bear children and continue your bloodline.



In case one, although the nature of Ham’s offense is not precise, seeing the father’s nakedness is not so much a serious crime to warrant the curse. Can we say that it was because he did not cover his father in his tent? Even this will does not look like a great offense.

Moreover, Ham was the offender, but why did Noah curse Canaan? It would seem that Ham has caused a breach between himself and his father; the judgment would occur on his descendant, for a destruction of one’s descendants will be an end of his bloodline.

However, the original purpose seems to be a sort of justification for the subjection of the Canaanite people by Israel; as a race caused by God.

Cases two, three, five, six and seven stresses the importance of children and family in the Old Testament. Abraham and Sarah’s action indicate that one may try different avenues to have children. These were the days of modified monogamy. There was only one wife but when the wife is barren, the maidservants are employed in a ritual where the pregnant servant sits on the knees of the wife and the child is claimed for the family.

We also see the dire position that barren or childless women face during this time. The more the children the more the prestige. We see this battle between Leah and Rachel, a battle in which the hired the help of their maidservants to give them more children as theirs.

A woman left without husband or children as in the case of Tamar is quite a tragedy. Thus, a woman must do all within her power to have children or becomes nothing. Naomi and Ruth were in this condition before their status changed with Ruth’s marriage to Boaz. We see this also in Lot and his daughters; the daughters got him drunk and slept with him to have children and continue the race.

Case four stresses God’s design and the irreversible nature of blessing. Jacob was the beloved, already seen before birth to be greater than his brother Esau. The younger is chosen over the elder. It is God who chooses and he had chosen Jacob and Israel over who the strong nations before him.

Blessings cannot be reversed. Once it is given, it is given. Balaam could not curse the blessed of the Lord for he had already blessed them.

Understanding Old Testament is key to interpreting it correctly.


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