A couple questions come to mind reading this, based on verses 20-22. The first isn’t, I suppose, a true question, since I think I can decipher the answer. In this verses, Jacob declares

‘If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the LORD shall be my God,

So the question is whether the LORD God wasn’t his God before. And it’s not really a question, because obviously the LORD wasn’t.

Which makes sense, in a way. In these chapters of Genesis, there’s no sense of exclusive monotheism, or even true monotheism (though that should be clear from the creation stories). We don’t know (outside of Jewish tradition) whether Abraham and his family ever completely stopped believing in other gods. We just know that the LORD God (YHWH) is their special patron god and the one they give devotion to. That’s called “henotheism,” worshiping only one god while acknowledging the existence of others.

Now, as I mentioned back with Melchizedek, it seems like Abraham associates his god with other high gods of neighboring people, like El Elyon (God Most High), and the LORD even calls himself El Shaddai (God Almighty*), and Hagar named him El Roi (God Who Sees). So it’s possible that Abraham does see himself as worshiping the rarely-worshiped high god of Near Eastern pantheons.

Isaac follows in his father’s footsteps paying devotion to the LORD God. But why not Jacob? Back in the last chapter he refers to “the LORD your God” (27:20) when talking to his father. That’s pretty explicit “I do not worship this god” language.

Jacob also seems genuinely shocked to get the blessing from God that his father and grandfather got. Did he not know that came with the package of being Isaac’s heir?

Is that why he never bothered worshiping the LORD God? Did he assume as the second son that he wasn’t on God’s agenda, and would have to worship all the lesser deities?

Did Esau worship the LORD God, then? I know he married Hittite women who would be polytheists, but did he choose to pay exclusive devotion to one god? The only evidence I can see pointing towards “no” is that Jacob was impersonating him when he said “the LORD your God,” but I’ll keep my eyes peeled.

And here’s another idea: did Rebekah convert? We know she “inquired of the LORD” during her difficult pregnancy (25:22), though how that worked isn’t said. Did she pray? Did she consult an oracle dedicated to one of the LORD God-equivalents in the area? And did she stay devoted to the LORD after that? Was part of Jacob’s non-devotion due to staying in the tents and being her favorite?

All the questions and so few answers. What is interesting is that God chooses Jacob without Jacob having been his devotee. I know I found that midrash saying that Abraham’s family left Ur because they were being persecuted for monotheism, but what’s to say Jacob didn’t take after his grandfather? Perhaps Abraham was also stunned to find out that a god had chosen him, specifically, and only became a henotheist afterwards.

The Japanese: oyobi “and, as well as, also” (v 4), yokotawaru “to lie down, recline” (v 11), sentan “the top” (v 12), osoreononoku “to tremble,” osore “awe” (v 17), seigan “oath” (v 20).

Very few this time, which was a good feeling. I’m hoping this project is working and getting me more comfortable with my Japanese comprehension. I lack so much self-esteem in that area; when you have to shift from a grad-student level in your native language to a 1st grade level in another, it’s not easy.

*Again, nobody knows what “Shaddai” means. “Almighty” is the traditional rendering, and the Japanese renders it as such without comment. Other possibilities include “God of the Mountains” and “God of the Breasts.”