Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Filthy Rags

Isaiah 64:6 But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.

This verse seems to summarize four related stories in the book of Genesis. These four stories don't seem related at first glance, so let me explain.

The first story is that of Jacob and Esau where Jacob tricked his father Isaac into giving him the blessing that Isaac intended for Esau.

The second story is that of Joseph's brothers selling him into slavery in Egypt.

The third story is that of Rachel, who stole her father's idols when Jacob's family left Paddan-Aram, home of her father.

And the fourth story is of Tamar, who disguised herself as a prostitute to seduce Judah.

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OK, they don't seem related, do they? But there are elements that occur in each and every story, sort of like a theme and variations. Three elements that repeat are deceit, blood, and cloth, admittedly an odd trio. There are other repeating elements, but these three are sufficient to show the stories are related, and they show the tie to Isaiah 64:6.

The story of Jacob and Esau begins with their mother Rebecca, who was given a prophecy before the twin boys were born. 
Gen 25:23 The Lord said to her, “Two nations are in your womb; And two peoples will be separated from your body; And one people shall be stronger than the other; And the older shall serve the younger.”
Jacob Deceives Isaac
Then when their father Isaac is old, he gives Esau directions to hunt some game, and make him a savory dish, so that he can give Esau the birthright blessing. He may or may not have known that Jacob already wrested the birthright away from Esau. He also may not have known he would live another 20 years. Rebecca overhears Isaac and makes a plan of her own. Remember, she knows this prophecy that the older shall serve the younger, she's been holding that memory for decades now. So she tells Jacob to get two goats from the flock, she will make the savory dish, Jacob will bring it to Isaac, and HE will get the blessing. It is not clear from the text whether Rebecca meant for Jacob to deceive Isaac, or whether Jacob ad libbed that part. However, she did provide Jacob with Esau's garment, and goat skin for his arms and neck in case Isaac touched him, which isn't honest and straightforward. Afterward, she disowns her own involvement by telling Jacob to go to her brother Laban till "he [Esau] forgets what YOU did to him", not what WE did to him.

Rebecca and Jacob deceive Isaac.
Two goats are slaughtered for the savory dish.
Jacob wore Esau's garments.

Joseph Sold Into Slavery
Joseph was 17 when his father gave him a special coat. Jacob sent Joseph to check on his older brothers. All of them had different mothers from Joseph, and all of them were keenly aware that Joseph was dad's favorite. Joseph didn't help his cause when he told them of his dream where their sheaves bowed down to his sheaf, or the dream where the sun, moon, and 11 stars bowed down before him. Joseph had 11 brothers, so they all immediately saw the meaning of this dream. 

Gen 37:3 Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his sons, because he was the son of his old age; and he made him a varicolored tunic. 4 His brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers; and so they hated him and could not speak to him on friendly terms. 5 Then Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him even more. 
The brothers hatched a plan to "kill the dreamer", they changed their minds, and sold Joseph for 20 shekels to Midianite traders who brought him to Egypt as a slave. The brothers deceived Jacob into thinking Joseph was dead by putting goat's blood on Joseph's coat.
Gen 37:31 So they took Joseph’s tunic, and slaughtered a male goat and dipped the tunic in the blood; 32 and they sent the varicolored tunic and brought it to their father and said, “We found this; please examine it to see whether it is your son’s tunic or not.”
Jacob was deceived by his sons.
A goat was slaughtered.
The goat's blood was put on Joseph's coat.
Rachel Steals Her Father's Idols

Jacob served his father in law Laban for 20 years, then God told him it was time to go home. He and his family sneaked out while Laban was away. Unknown to Laban and Joseph, Rachel stole Laban's idols. Maybe she thought that Laban used them for divination, and without them, he couldn't find them. But he did find them. He looked everywhere in Jacob's camp, but couldn't find them because Rachel was sitting on them. In effect, she was saying "you don't want to see my bloody rags".

Gen 31:19 When Laban had gone to shear his flock, then Rachel stole the household idols that were her father’s. 20 And Jacob deceived Laban the Aramean by not telling him that he was fleeing. 
34 Now Rachel had taken the household idols and put them in the camel’s saddle, and she sat on them. And Laban felt through all the tent but did not find them. 35 She said to her father, “Let not my lord be angry that I cannot rise before you, for the manner of women is upon me.” So he searched but did not find the household idols.
Jacob and Rachel deceive Laban.
Jacob offered a sacrifice (verse 54), I'm guessing it was a goat.
Cloth was implied.

Tamar's Veil

Tamar was Judah's daughter in law. Judah's son Er, her husband died so it fell to his brother Onan to raise up an offspring for Tamar. He wouldn't, so God took his life. Judah's third son Shelah was young so Judah told Tamar to wait. Alas, Shelah married and Tamar was neglected. She devised her own plan to get offspring by seducing Judah. She got pregnant and had twin boys.

Gen 38:14 So she removed her widow’s garments and covered herself with a veil, and wrapped herself, and sat in the gateway of Enaim, which is on the road to Timnah; for she saw that Shelah had grown up, and she had not been given to him as a wife. 15 When Judah saw her, he thought she was a harlot, for she had covered her face. 16 So he turned aside to her by the road, and said, “Here now, let me come in to you”; for he did not know that she was his daughter-in-law. And she said, “What will you give me, that you may come in to me?” 17 He said, therefore, “I will send you a young goat from the flock.”

Tamar deceived Judah.
The goat made a narrow escape from being slaughtered. There's always a goat.
She removed her widow's garments, and put on a veil.

Connection To Isaiah

Now it's time to dig into Isaiah 64:6 a little deeper. The phrase translated as filthy rags is from "idim beged". Idim actually means menstruation or menstrual blood  - Strong's(idim) [1]. Beged means a covering, translated as apparel, cloth, clothes, garment, raiment, rags - Strong's(beged) [2]. 

Each story mentions clothing, or cloth in some way. The link to Isaiah is that three of them use the word beged, the Rachel story doesn't use the word beged, but euphemistically refers to her bloody rags. The Tamar story does not mention blood, but definitely the clothing.

Genesis 27:15 — Then Rebekah took the best garments [beged] of Esau her elder son, which were with her in the house, and put them on Jacob her younger son.
Genesis 37:29 — Now Reuben returned to the pit, and behold, Joseph was not in the pit; so he tore his garments [beged].
Genesis 38:14 — So she [Tamar] removed her widow’s garments [beged] and covered [herself] with a veil, and wrapped herself, and sat in the gateway of Enaim, which is on the road to Timnah; for she saw that Shelah had grown up, and she had not been given to him as a wife.
Genesis 31:35 - She [Rachel] said to her father, “Let not my lord be angry that I cannot rise before you, for the manner of women [ki derek nashim li] is upon me.” So he searched but did not find the household idols [teraphim].


These three elements of deceit, blood, and cloth occur over and over again in these stories of the last half of Genesis. All the characters were trying to solve an injustice. Rebecca knew Jacob was to get the birthright over Esau and helped him get it by deceit. Jacob's sons suffered the favoritism shown to Joseph and set about to even the score. Tamar was being cheated out of offspring and worked out her own way to get them. And Rachel knew her father had cheated Jacob and would cheat him again so she helped him escape. All of them did it their own way.

When Isaiah wrote that our righteousness is as bloody cloths, perhaps he was saying that our means of seeking justice are wrong. In a way, it is equating our righteousness with deceit. The Hebrew word for righteousness tzedek also means justice. It seems fair to say that if our means of achieving justice begins with deceit, or involves deceit, like in these four stories, it won't accomplish God's righteousness. Our justice is going to end with blood and rags.

Is it possible for man to work God's justice, His righteousness? I think so. He gave us the Ten Commandments as a guide how to do it. "For all Your commandments are righteousness" - Ps 119:172. If we follow His rules, His justice will result. His laws are universal, He backs them up. In the end, God did not allow Laban to cheat Jacob, nor allow Joseph to stay in prison. When we do things our own way to get justice, in violation of the Ten Commandments, blood and rags result. However, we know that in this life there is injustice, even for believers. I think we can all recall injustices in our own lives. Even animals can recognize injustice and unfairness - The Story About Dinah Is Not About Dinah* [3]. How do we reconcile the realities we see around us with statements like this, "For I the Lord act with kindness, justice, and equity in the world; for in these I delight - Jer 9:22"? 

White Robes

What would be the picture of God's righteousness? I think the opposite of bloody rags would be white robes. This is what the saints are wearing in Revelation, robes made white by the blood of Jesus Christ. This hearkens back to Joseph, whose coat was dipped in blood to deceive, the difference is that Jesus' blood makes the saint's robes white.

Rev 7:13 Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, “These who are clothed in the white robes, who are they, and where have they come from?” 14 I said to him, “My lord, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

*Dinah's story is also about injustice, but has no mention of cloth. 


1. http://lexiconcordance.com/hebrew/5708.html

2. http://lexiconcordance.com/hebrew/0899.html
3. https://jlfreeman-1.blogspot.com/2017/08/the-story-about-dinah-is-not-about-dinah.html