Family ties. Laban took responsibility for his sister Rebekah (Gen. 24:29-51). Apparently their father, who was still alive, was unable to do so.
Tents were temporary shelters made of cloth and were often woven from black goat’s hair. The tent was held up by ropes and poles. Most tents were rectangular in shape. Because nomadic families moved often, they had little furniture. Tents still provide housing for nomadic peoples living in the Middle East today.
A father’s blessing (Gen. ch. 27) was not just a symbolic gesture. It established the identity of the heir, granting him all the privileges of that position. The father’s blessing was even seen as in some way shaping his future.
Giving servants as gifts to the bride (Gen. 29:24) was very common in OT times. Doing so provided the newly married woman the help she would need in running a household. Having servants also gave the wife a position of status within her community.
Why was Laban so upset when his household gods were stolen? Household gods (Gen. 31:30) had a more practical use than just idol worship. They served as titles of ownership to one’s property and inheritance.
The Jabbok River. The Hebrew word for “wrestle” is abbaq. This has led many scholars to believe that the Jabbok River (Gen. 32:22) was named after Jacob’s famous wrestling match with God.
The name Succoth (Gen. 33:17) means “booths.” A booth was a temporary dwelling resembling a tent or a hut. Most of the people around Succoth were nomads, and they probably lived in tents or booths.
Terebinths are huge, spreading trees that grow to a height of 20–26 feet (6–8 m). They have reddish-green leaves and red berries that grow in clusters. A perfumed, oily resin flows out of the bark when it is cut. Terebinths grow in hot, dry places, and were thus a source of welcome shade to the people of the Bible (Gen. 35:4; Hos. 4:13).
A long walk! Jacob sent Joseph to see how his brothers were doing, as they tended their sheep (Gen. 37:14). Joseph headed northward, probably walking, and didn’t find his brothers until he came to Dothan (v. 17). The journey would have been more than 50 miles (80 km)!
A costly demonstration of grief. The Hebrew custom of tearing one’s garments (Gen. 37:29, 34) was an expression of grief, often after learning of the death of a loved one. It would surely have had great significance in a day when most people owned very few items of clothing.
Levirate marriage is the practice of a man marrying the widow of his deceased brother, if she had no children (Gen. 38:8). A child of this second marriage would provide security for the widow and would carry on the name of the deceased brother.
Cupbearers (Gen. 40:1) were high-ranking officials who served the kings of the ancient Near East. Their job was dangerous: before bringing any drink to the king, they tasted it to make sure that it had not been poisoned.
Signets were seals that bore a unique mark representing their owner. Some signets were worn around the neck; others were worn as rings (Gen. 41:42). The signet was pressed into soft clay to leave an impression of its mark. Signet impressions were used to certify important documents.
Money in the form of coins did not come into use until around the sixth century b.c. In Joseph’s time, in the nineteenth century b.c., items such as spices, gems, or precious metals were used as money.
Joseph’s words “God sent me” reveal his faith in the providence of God who used his brothers’ evil act for great good—the preservation of Joseph and all his family (Gen. 45:7). That same preserving providence of God is at work today all around the world to govern the lives of God’s people.
The Land of Goshen probably covered a small area. But it was very fertile and was a good place to raise sheep and cattle (Gen. 46:28–34).
“Do not bury me in Egypt.” Once a family burial plot had been established, it was customary for future generations to be buried there as well (Gen. 47:29‑30). This helped to tie the family closer together and also to secure their property rights.
God’s providence. When Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, the outcome could have been tragic. But God in his providence brought good out of their evil actions (Gen. 50:20). This was a foreshadowing of God’s bringing the ultimate good—eternal salvation for anyone who will receive it, whatever their ethnic or cultural background—out of the wicked actions of the men who crucified Jesus (Acts 2:22–24).
As numerous as the stars. As the book of Exodus begins, some 350 years have passed since the end of Genesis. The 70 Israelites who went to Egypt have grown into a great multitude. This fulfills God’s promise to multiply Abraham’s descendants and to make them a blessing to all the nations of the world (Gen. 12:1–3; 15:5).
Bitumen is a mineral found in Mesopotamia and Palestine. It was used as a mortar for setting bricks and for waterproofing rafts and boats (Exodus 2:3).