Vayishlach - Gen 32:4 - 36:42

B'resheet/Genesis 36:31   And these are the kings who reigned in the land of Edom before a king ruled for the Children of Israel.


This verse precedes a list of eight kings who ruled in Edom. Unlike many lists of names, none of those involved seem related to each other or to the land of Edom. This and other characteristics draw the attention of the ancient commentators. The root appears four times in the text, twice in each half of the verse. The first usage is , a plural noun, "the kings", and is followed by ,the Qal affix 3cp verb: "they reigned". This is what kings do: they reigned. In the second half of the verse, the two instances are not only adjacent, but tightly coupled with a maqqef (hyphen): is the Qal affix 3ms verb form, "he reigned", while is the singular noun, 'king'. Modern scholarship and some older critics see an impossible time issue in this text: how could Moshe have written them. Gunther Plaut observes, "the conclusion suggests itself that either this phrase or the entire section was added after the establishment of the Israelite monarchy. The verse was a stumbling block to traditional interpreters who had to maintain that 'the king' was Moshe or that Moshe wrote this as a prophecy." But Plaut wasn't the first. Who Is ...

Abraham Ibn Ezra: (1089-1167 CE), born in Tudela, Spain; died in the South of France after wandering all around the shores of the Mediterranean and England; a philosopher, astronomer, doctor, poet and linguist; wrote a Hebrew grammar and a commentary on the Bible
Ibn Ezra noted the problem in the works of a colleague back in the twelfth century.

The Who Is ...

Ramban: Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman of Gerona or Nachmanides (1194-1270 CE), Spanish rabbi, author and physician; defended Judaism in the Christian debates in Barcelona before making aliyah
Ramban starts by explaining that "This was written in order to relate that the blessing of Yitz'khak was fulfilled in Esav. He had said to him, 'And by your sword you shall live' (B'resheet 27:40), and they prevailed over the sons of Se'ir the Horite and reigned over them in their land." Who Is ...

Hirsch: Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888 CE), German rabbi, author and educator; staunch opponent of the Reform movement in Germany and one of the fathers of Orthodox Judaism
Hirsch agrees, commenting, "Esav's destiny developed rapidly in accordance with the natural effects of the 'power of the sword.'" Those who are proficient with weapons are able to conquer those who are not; archaeology confirms that there was a violent conquest at that time of the area known as Mt. Se'ir, taking the land from the agricultural and peaceable Horites.

The Jewish commentators are taken in a number of ways with the following list of kings. The Midrash quotes that "Rabbi Joshua bar Levi said: The one [Edom] produced eight [kings] and the other [Israel] produced eight. 'The one [Edom] produced eight': Bela, Jobab, Husham, Samlah, Shaul, Hadad, Baal-hanan, Hadar. 'The other [Israel] produced eight': Saul, Ishbosheth, David, Solomon, Rehoboam, Abijah, Asa, and Jehoshaphat." Nahum Sarna points out that "When Saul had taken the kingship over Israel, he fought against all his enemies on every side, against Moab, against the Ammonites, against Edom, against the kings of Zobah, and against the Philistines. Wherever he turned he routed them" (1 Samuel 14:47, ESV) and that "David gained fame when he returned from defeating Edom in the Valley of Salt, 18000 in all. He stationed garrisons in Edom -- he stationed garrisons in all of Edom -- and all the Edomites became vassals of David" (2 Samuel 8:13-14, JPS). Who Is ...

Rashi: Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (1040-1105 CE), French rabbi who wrote commentaries on the Torah, the Prophets and the Talmud, lived in Troyes where he founded a yeshiva in 1067; focuses on the plain meaning (p'shat) of the text, although sometimes quite cryptic in his brevity
Rashi adds that it wasn't until the days of the ninth king of Judah - Joram, Jehosaphat's son - that "the Edomites rebelled against Judah's rule and set up a king of their own" (2 Kings 8:20, JPS). He uses the verse "There was no king in Edom; a viceroy acted as king" (1 Kings 22:48, JPS), written in Jehosaphat's time, to imply that the days of dominion had lasted since Saul fought the Edomites and destroyed their kingdom.

The Who Is ...

Ba'al HaTurim: Rabbi Yaakov ben Asher (1269-1343 CE), born in Cologne, Germany; lived for 40 years in and around Toledo, Spain; died en route to Israel; his commentary to the Chumash is based upon an abridgement of the Ramban, including Rashi, Rashbam and Ibn Ezra; it includes many references to gematria and textual novelties
Baal HaTurim wants to know why the number eight is significant. His research concludes that "because Ya'akov called Esav, 'my lord' eight times, eight kings ruled in Edom before a king would rule in Israel. And corresponding to those eight, eight kings ruled in Israel and Judah until Joram when Edom rebelled."

The names of the kings and their origins is also unusual. The Who Is ...

Sforno: Rabbi Ovadiah Sforno (1470-1550 CE), Italian rabbi, philosopher and physician; born in Cesena, he went to Rome to study medicine; left in 1525 and after some years of travel, settled in Bologna where he founded a yeshiva which he conducted until his death
Sforno suggests that the Edomites were "constrained to appoint strangers as kings, for there were none among them worthy to reign; also they were unable to establish a dynasty." The Who Is ...

The Radak: Rabbi David Kimhi (1160-1235 CE), rabbi, biblical commentator, philosopher and grammarian; born in Narbonne, France; best known for his commentaries on the Prophets, he also wrote a philosphical commentary on Bresheet that makes extensive use of the Targum of Jonathan ben Uzziel; influenced by a strong supporter of Ibn Ezra and Maimonides
Radak echoes this: "The Edomites selected their kings from foreign nations because they had no citizen worthy to be king." Who Is ...

Rambam: Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon or Maimonides (1135-1204 CE), Talmudist, philosopher, astronomer and physician; author of Mishneh Torah, Guide for the Perplexed and other works; a convinced rationalist
Maimonides comments that "the kings are listed in verses 31-39 to highlight that they came from non-Edomite families and led the nation to ultimate defeat" (Guide for the Perplexed 3:50). Drazin and Wagner point out that the Torah forbids Israel from doing this: "Be sure to set as king over yourself one of your own people; you must not set a foreigner over you, one who is not your kinsman" (D'varim 17:15, JPS); and suggest that if Israel followed the Edomite example, they would suffer the same fate.

Can the Edomite picture here be used as a model for our lives? Do we need to ask ourselves who is king in our life? Whether we consider ourselves worthy to rule ourselves - and most people probably do - we nevertheless appoint other kings to effective rule in our lives, sometimes several. For some it is a succession of demanding jobs and employers, who suck all our time and energy into work and time at the office, "for the sake of the business". The odd thing is that very few people say on their deathbeds, "I wish I'd spent more time at the office." Then we recognise, too late, that we have allowed work and all that is associated with it - earning money, acquiring status, the approval of the boss and work colleagues - to be the wrong king over us. Other people allow fitness to be the ruler of their life: running, jogging, weight-lifting, cycling; they are always popping in for a session at the gym or out for an early morning run, come rain or shine. Strangely, not many people's last words are, "I wish I'd spent more time at the gym." Another all-consuming passion is sport, that is, spectator sport. Whether football, baseball, cricket, motor racing, snooker or the Olympics, some people are simply obsessed with watching sport. It can be a group activity, hours down at the pub watching the big game on a screen nearly as large as a double bed, or it can be just one person staying up until three o'clock in the morning to watch a race from the other side of the world. Records, averages, player histories - the vital statistics have to be mastered and kept sharp to enhance enjoyment or impress others. Have you heard of someone's final regrets being, "I wish I'd spent more time watching Formula One"?

At the end of the time of the judges, when the prophet Samuel was serving as the last judge that Israel would have, Israel demanded that he appoint a king over them, so that they could be just like the other nations. HaShem gave them permission, but told Samuel to warn the people what having a king would mean to them:

This will be the practice of the king who will rule over you: He will take your sons and appoint them as his charioteers and horsemen, and they will serve as outrunners for his chariots. He will appoint them as his chiefs of thousands and of fifties; or they will have to plow his fields, reap his harvest, and make his weapons and the equipment for his chariots. He will take your daughters as perfumers, cooks, and bakers. He will seize your choice fields, vineyards, and olive groves, and give them to his courtiers. He will take a tenth part of your grain and vintage and give it to his eunuchs and courtiers. He will take your male and female slaves, your choice young men, and your asses, and put them to work for him. He will take a tenth part of your flocks, and you shall become his slaves. The day will come when you cry out because of the king whom you yourselves have chosen; and the L-RD will not answer you on that day. (1 Samuel 8:11-18, JPS)

Nevertheless, Israel insisted and so Saul was made king of Israel. Forewarned though they were, the people were shocked when "King Solomon imposed forced labor on all Israel; the levy came to 30000 men. He sent them to the Lebanon in shifts of 10000 a month" (1 Kings 5:27-28, JPS). Solomon forced the people "to build the House of the L-RD, his own palace, the Millo, and the wall of Jerusalem, and to fortify Hazor, Megiddo, and Gezer" (9:15, JPS). When his son, Rehoboam became king, his words to the people who asked him to lessen the burdens of the state - "My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to your yoke; my father flogged you with whips, but I will flog you with scorpions" (12:14, JPS) - caused the split between the tribes of Israel: ten refused his kingship and only the tribe of Judah remained loyal to the house of David. And you can find plenty of Rehoboams around in our world today.

Today, Yeshua brings us an offer of peace: "Come to Me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light" (Matthew 11:28, ESV). The question we have to ask is, "Who is king in my life?" Have we chosen ourselves or some other king, so that we are being plundered and used by them, or have we chosen Yeshua and the kingdom of G-d?

Further Study: Jeremiah 30:18-22; Psalm 2:1-6; Daniel 7:13-14; Acts 5:30-31

Application: Who is king in your life? Are you under someone's thumb or being driven where you do not want to go? Then it is time to invite King Yeshua to come and rule in your life and turn things around for the good.

07:10 11Dec16 Judith: Brilliant food for my brain and spirit.

© Jonathan Allen, 2016



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