Forgotten Stories from the Old Testament: A Brotherly Reunion

At the time Jacob and Esau parted, they weren’t on very good terms. Jacob had received the birthright blessing, and Esau felt he had been robbed of it, even though the Lord had made it clear that Jacob had been the one to live faithful enough to receive that blessing. Esau was bitter enough about the whole thing that he made plans to kill Jacob.

Talk about sibling rivalry.

Jacob’s mom, recognizing the danger he was in, succeeded in getting Jacob sent away to find a wife. That effort not only saved Jacob from his brother, but he succeeded in getting a wife – in fact, he got two wives, and had twelve kids. Kind of a cheaper-by-the-dozen deal, I suppose.

After a while, however, Jacob decides it’s time to return, with all his household and the possessions he had accumulated. Only problem is, that means he’s got to face Esau again. Not sure whether his brother was over his grudge or not, he sends messengers to Esau with gifts, effectively saying, “Here’s a gift, I’m coming to visit.”

Esau sends back word that was more or less, “I’ll meet you part way – with 400 men.”

You can imagine Jacob’s anxiety. Sure that his brother plans on killing his whole family, Jacob prays and begs for help. This is when he is given the name change from Jacob to Israel.

Finally they meet across a field, and Esau comes running at Jacob. Jacob bows down, ready to beg for mercy, but his brother gets there and hugs him. They cry and sob over each other – Esau excited to finally see his brother again, and Jacob probably out of relief.

Here’s the account:

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Forgotten Stories from the Old Testament: The Purpose of Circumcision

Have you ever wondered why the Lord has his people practice the law of circumcision? Obviously it was part of the Abrahamic covenant, but what did it represent? Sacrifice was a reminder that Christ would one day sacrifice His own life, so what was circumcision supposed to remind them of?

The answer is kind of interesting, actually. Here’s the account in Joseph Smith’s translation of Genesis 17:3-12


3 And it came to pass, that Abram fell on his face, and called upon the name of the Lord.

4 And God talked with him, saying, My people have gone astray from my precepts, and have not kept mine ordinances, which I gave unto their fathers;

5 And they have not observed mine anointing, and the burial, or baptism wherewith I commanded them;

6 But have turned from the commandment, and taken unto themselves the washing of children, and the blood of sprinkling;

7 And have said that the blood of the righteous Able was shed for sins; and have not known wherein they are accountable before me.

• • •

11 And I will establish a covenant of circumcision with thee, and it shall be my covenant between me and thee, and thy seed after thee, in their generations; that thou mayest know for ever that children are not accountable before me until they are eight years old.

12 And thou shalt observe to keep all my covenants wherein I covenanted with thy fathers; and thou shalt keep the commandments which I have given thee with mine own mouth, and I will be a God unto thee and thy seed after thee.

Forgotten Stories from the Old Testament: After the Ark

There is a little story about Noah that takes place a short time after the Ark was landed. It is an odd story, and without a wider context, can be very perplexing.

From what the story says, Noah got drunk, and his son, Ham, found him in his tent naked. So Ham came out and told his brothers, who backed into the tent and covered him with a garment. Then when Noah woke, he cursed Canaan.

It sounds a little odd, I know, but the Church’s Institute Student Manual has an interesting explanation. I’ll paste it after the verses. Basically, Noah got drunk in his tent and passed out (remember the word of wisdom was not revealed until this dispensation). Then Ham, who held the priesthood, but who’s son could not hold the priesthood, thought that he could give his son the priesthood by giving him Noah’s garment, so he stole it off his father. When Shem and Japeth discovered what had happened, they made him a new garment and put it on their father. So when Noah woke, he realized what happened and cursed Canaan, who had the stolen garment.

Here’s the account:

Genesis 9:20-27

20 And Noah began to be an husbandman, and he planted a vineyard:

21 And he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent.

22 And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without.

23 And Shem and Japheth took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went backward, and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were backward, and they saw not their father’s nakedness.

24 And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done unto him.

25 And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren.

26 And he said, Blessed be the Lord God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant.

27 God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant.

And here’s the explanation given in the Institute Student Manual:

(4-20) Genesis 9:20–27 . Why Did Noah Curse Canaan in This Event When He Was Not Even Present?

The account of Noah’s “nakedness” and the role his sons played in the event is a puzzling one, especially the part in which Noah awakens and pronounces a curse upon Canaan, the son of Ham (see Genesis 10:6 ), who does not even seem to be present at the time.

Most members of the Church are aware that a priesthood garment, symbolic of the covenants made in the temple, is worn by those who have participated in the endowment ceremony in the temple. This garment is a representation of the coat of skins made by the Lord for Adam and Eve after the Fall (see Genesis 3:21 ; Moses 4:27 ). The idea of a garment made of skins that signified that one had power in the priesthood is found in several ancient writings. Hugh Nibley discussed some of these ancient writings and their implications for the passage in Genesis:

“Nimrod claimed his kingship on the ground of victory over his enemies [see Genesis 10:8–10 ; Reading 4-21 ]; his priesthood, however, he claimed by virtue of possessing ‘the garment of Adam.’ The Talmud assures us that it was by virtue of owning this garment that Nimrod was able to claim power to rule over the whole earth, and that he sat in his tower while men came and worshiped him. The Apocryphal writers, Jewish and Christian, have a good deal to say about this garment. To quote one of them: ‘the garments of skin which God made for Adam and his wife when they went out of the garden and were given after the death of Adam . . . to Enoch’; hence they passed to Methuselah, and then to Noah, from whom Ham stole them as the people were leaving the ark. Ham’s grandson Nimrod obtained them from his father Cush. As for the legitimate inheritance of this clothing, a very old fragment recently discovered says that Michael ‘disrobed Enoch of his earthly garments, and put on him his angelic clothing,’ taking him into the presence of God. . . .

“Incidentally the story of the stolen garment as told by the rabbis, including the great Eleazer, calls for an entirely different rendering of the strange story in Genesis [9] from the version in our King James Bible. They seemed to think that the ’erwath of Genesis [9:22] did not mean ‘nakedness’ at all, but should be given its primary root meaning of ‘skin covering.’ Read thus, we are to understand that Ham took the garment of his father while he was sleeping and showed it to his brethren, Shem and Japheth, who took a pattern or copy of it (salmah) or else a woven garment like it (simlah) which they put upon their own shoulders, returning the skin garment to their father. Upon awaking, Noah recognized the priesthood of two sons but cursed the son who tried to rob him of his garment.” ( Lehi in the Desert and the World of Jaredites, pp. 160–62.)

Therefore, although Ham himself had the right to the priesthood, Canaan, his son, did not. Ham had married Egyptus, a descendant of Cain ( Abraham 1:21–24 ), and so his sons were denied the priesthood.

(OT Institute Student Manual)