These Eight did Milcah Bear

Genesis 22:23
Daddy was a preacher, so was Uncle Glen, my mother’s brother. They worshiped the same God and fulfilled the same calling. My father had only one brother, and they weren’t especially close until my dad’s latter years. My uncle had only one brother, but he was born late in my grandparent’s life. In fact, he was only two years older than me and one year younger than my sister. At any rate, these shared life experiences led Daddy and Uncle Glen to be very close. They hunted together, fished together, camped out together, preached in each other’s pulpits, and told all the same preacher jokes. They also raised their children to fear God and behave in church.

Today, I read Genesis 22, the story of Abraham’s test from God and whether he was willing to sacrifice his son at God’s command. Then I saw it. I had seen it before, but for some reason today, it stood out. That story is immediately followed by the account of Milcah bearing seven sons to Abraham’s brother, Nahor. I was immediately transported back to a childhood Sunday morning and Uncle Glen telling a preacher joke.

The new preacher in town went to witness to the old codger of the community. He asked the old man why he had never repented and turned to God. The old man responded that he just wasn’t sure the Bible was reliable. The pastor invited the old geezer to give even one example why the scripture wasn’t true. Without hesitating, the old fellow quoted Genesis 22:23, “’These eight did Milcah bear.’ Preacher, even with that many sons, I know they didn’t milk no bear!” (Insert laughter here.)


I enjoyed the old worn out jokes. I thought it was funny enough that the first two sons were named Huz and Buz. At one point, just for fun, I recited to myself “Twas the Night Before Christmas,” inserting the names of these guys instead of the eight reindeer. “Now, Huz! now, Buz! now, Kemuel and Chesed! On, Hazo! on Pildash! on, Jidlaph and Bethuel!” (Alright, maybe it loses a little something there at the end.) As the nostalgia waned, I let the passage soak in a bit. To be honest, there are some issues in this story.

First, God tells Abraham to take “your son, your only son.” In fact, that phrase is used three times (vs 2, 12, 16). When scripture repeats something three times in such a short space, there must be something significant. The reality of the matter is Isaac was not Abraham’s only son. There was Ishmael. (Flash forward.)

The second issue is more of a question than a problem. Why did the writer choose to insert the account of Abraham’s nephews at this particular point? This actually may help us interpret the earlier question. The writer recounts the sons born by Milcah to Nahor. Then there is a listing of the children born by Reumah, Nahor’s concubine, but they are not referred to as sons. This is parallel to Hagar birthing Ishmael, but he was not named as Abraham’s son. Only Isaac, the child of Abraham and Sarah, was Abraham’s son; “your son, your only son.” Some readers are already screaming, “That’s not fair! They were both Abraham’s sons.” Before you complain in Ishmael’s behalf, though, remember it was Isaac who ended up bound with a knife at his throat. In reality, however, we enlightened and compassionate citizens of the 21st century do that very thing. We use terms like “step-son” and “half-sister,” or my personal favorite, “brother from another mother.” For better or worse, we make the same kind of distinctions, and God knew we would. We can’t claim to take the moral high ground against the word of God. In fact, it is Scripture condescending to our level and terminology.

What about application? What does this mean for our daily lives? Is the Bible really telling us to love step-sons and half-sisters less? I don’t think so. I do think God is pointing out his original plan for the family unit to be comprised of one man and one woman mated for life. Malachi reminds us that he is seeking Godly offspring. In cases where that doesn’t happen – that’s at least half of all marriages – there are still quality and loving relationships to be had. Step, half, and adopted brothers, sisters, mothers, and fathers are often just as loving and caring, and sometimes more-so.

As brothers, Abraham and Nahor had similar joys and challenges in their family situations. After all, they were both having children at an old age. That alone should command some respect. After my dad died, my uncle took on a sizable portion of helping to raise my brother and me, even with four kids of his own. At Uncle Glen’s funeral, I thanked my cousins for sharing their dad with me, and I meant it sincerely.

Published in: on March 22, 2016 at 8:57 am  Leave a Comment  

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