by John P. Pratt
reprinted from Meridian Magazine (July 13, 2000).
©2000 by John P. Pratt. All rights Reserved.
The scriptures are filled with many plain and precious truths which gladden the heart and enlighten the mind. But the scriptures also contain many hidden treasures. By this I mean precious treasures which have been purposely hidden. The Lord hides many truths for various reasons to come forth in his own due time. "It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honour of kings is to search out a matter" (Prov. 25:2). This article includes what appears to be a first class logic puzzle found in the scriptures, which the reader is invited to search out. Searching the scriptures in this manner can lead to delicious fruit which has been hitherto unknown.
Why would the Lord purposely hide anything in the scriptures? There are many reasons: One is to hide precious truths from the understanding of non-believers, often to prevent "casting pearls before swine." Another is to try the faith of his people with prophecies which are hard to understand, and sometimes even misleading, until after they have been fulfilled. And yet another reason to hide truth is to keep the meat of deeper doctrine away from newcomers to the gospel until they have digested the milk of the plain and simple parts of the gospel. When we are ready, the Holy Spirit can enlighten us to understand the more difficult principles.
The parables of Jesus are an excellent example of purposely hidden truths. Sometimes it is said that Jesus taught in parables to make his meanings more clear by speaking in the language of the people, but just the opposite is true. Jesus taught in parables to obscure the true meaning from the spiritually unprepared. After giving a parable, he would often say, "Who hath ears to hear, let him hear" (Mat. 13:9). When the disciples asked the Savior why he taught in parables he explained:
"Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.
"For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.
"Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand." (Matthew 13:11-13)
An excellent example of a difficult prophecy intended to try someone's faith is the case of two separate prophecies given to Zedekiah, the last king of Judah. The prophet Jeremiah prophesied that Zedekiah would see Nebuchadnezzar face to face and then be taken captive to Babylon (Jer. 32:4-5). On the other hand, his contemporary Ezekiel prophesied that Zedekiah would never see Babylon (Ezek. 12:13).
Because these prophets apparently disagreed, Zedekiah refused to believe them, even on the many other points on which they did agree. Before rejecting the words of the prophets, Zedekiah would have done well to ask himself if there was any way that the statements of both prophets could be totally true. In other words, how could it be that 1) Zedekiah would see Nebuchadnezzar, 2) he would then be taken captive to Babylon, but also that 3) he would never see Babylon. One solution to that puzzle is that Nebuchadnezzar could have made Zedekiah blind just before he was taken to Babylon, and hence he would never be able to actually see that city. That may sound like being very picky with words, but that is exactly what happened (2 Kings 25:7). The Lord has told us repeatedly that he chooses his words very carefully.
The Lord may have given those two prophecies for several reasons. First, the apparent contradiction would try Zedekiah's faith. Note that it really does look like it was purposely made to appear contradictory because of Jeremiah's mentioning that Zedekiah would "see" Nebuchadnezzar face to face. Zedekiah had seen him before, so that part is apparently there to make it clear that there would be nothing wrong with Zedekiah's sight. Another reason for the revelations could be that if Zedekiah did really have enough faith to deduce how both could be true, then he would be warned of exactly what would happen to him if he rebelled. In other words, exercising his faith could lead him to discover a hidden treasure in the prophecies, namely, exactly what would be his fate. And in that case, the apparently deceptive reference to Zedekiah's "seeing" Nebuchadnezzar would actually turn into a big clue explaining exactly when he would be blinded. Another reason for giving the prophecies could be to show all of us a witness of the precise foreknowledge of God: he knew that Zedekiah would not be blind when captured, but that he would be shortly thereafter.
One final example illustrates how the Lord also can give apparent contradictions in order to squelch hecklers. When the Sadducees asked him which of seven brothers would have the wife they shared during life, he astonished them by declaring that they didn't understand the scriptures because in heaven there is no marriage nor giving in marriage (Mat. 22:23-30). They were confounded and soon all the questions to trap him stopped. But what did he mean? Is that true that there is no marriage in heaven? His answer was consistent with modern reveal truth from at least two different perspectives. First, the people mentioned in the question would not have been married for eternity in the temple and hence would have remained separate in the next world. And secondly, there really is no marriage in heaven. It is an earthly ordinance and must be done by mortals standing as proxies for those who have died. But the Savior had no desire to actually enlighten his antagonists, nor to tell them that the wife could belong to the first husband to whom she could later be sealed in the temple. The answer he gave served his purpose well, although it hid part of the truth.
With these examples in mind, let us now consider what appears to be a first class logic puzzle found in Genesis. I discovered it a few years ago when what appeared to be a blatant mistake in arithmetic jumped out at me. The account of Jacob going to Egypt states that 66 of his descendants made the trip with him, and that Joseph and his two sons were already there, for a total of 70 (Gen. 46:26-27). Such an obvious apparent error was amazing because no mistakes in arithmetic had been found in a detailed analysis of all of the ages of the patriarchs. So then I decided to read carefully the boring list of all the names of his 70 descendants. The result was the discovery of what appeared to be another mistake! The number of names on the descendant lists did not all match the numbers given. Could it really be that there are two mistakes in the same story a few verses apart from each other, or could there be a "solution" to this puzzle in which there would be no mistake at all?
It now appears to me that this story is indeed a classic logic puzzle which was purposely included in Genesis to hide some information. This puzzle has been on my web site for three years now and many people have solved it to varying degrees. It is included here for you to try. The answer is a hidden treasure worth knowing. I have never yet published the solution, but it will be given in full in this column next month.
The only "hint" is to find a solution that makes every statement be completely true, just as we did in the case of Zedekiah above. The entire puzzle is below. References to the Bible are given so that you can check for yourself that it really is there, but do not try to do the puzzle directly from the Bible. Ambiguities of translation have been resolved, so you can solve it best by just looking at the summary given here. Knowing that these hidden treasures exit, and perhaps even trying this puzzle, might awaken in us a desire to more diligently search and ponder the scriptures, to feast on the delicious hidden fruit found there.
1. All seventy living souls of the house of Jacob, including all of his living male and female descendants, were in Egypt when he arrived there with those who accompanied him. (Gen. 46:6, 27).
2. Sixty-six of Jacob's descendants came to Egypt with him. This count includes only Jacob's literal offspring; none of his sons' wives is included (Gen. 46:26).
3. Except for Joseph and his two sons, who already resided in Egypt (Gen. 46:27), Jacob took with him all of his son(s), his sons' son(s), his daughter(s), his sons' daughter(s) (Gen. 46:7), and all of his great-grandchildren ("little ones," Gen. 46:5).
4. These are the names of Jacob's descendants when they had all arrived in Egypt, along with subtotals for each of his four wives (Leah, Zilpah, Rachel, and Bilhah):
a. Leah had 33 living descendants. Her sons were Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun, and her daughter was Dinah. Reuben's sons were Hanoch, Phallu, Hezron and Carmi. Simeon's sons were Jemuel, Jamin, Ohad, Jachin, Zohar, and Shaul the son of a Cannaanitish woman. Levi's sons were Gershon, Kohath and Merari. Judah's sons were Er, Onan, Shelah, Pharez, and Zerah, but Er and Onan had died previously. Pharez' sons were Hezron and Hamul. Issachar's sons were Tola, Phuvah, Job and Shimron. Zebulun's sons were Sered, Elon and Jahleel (Gen. 46:8-15).
b. Zilpah had 16 living descendants. Her sons were Gad and Asher. Gad's sons were Ziphion, Haggi, Shuni, Ezbon, Eri, Arodi, and Areli. Asher's sons were Jimnah, Ishuah, Isui and Beriah, and Serah was their sister. Beriah's sons were Heber and Malchiel (Gen. 46:16-18).
c. Rachel had 14 living descendants. Her sons were Joseph and Benjamin. In Egypt, the sons of Joseph and his wife Asenath, daughter of an Egyptian priest, were Manasseh and Ephraim. Benjamin's sons were Belah, Becher, Ashbel, Gera, Naaman, Ehi, Rosh, Muppim, Huppim, and Ard (Gen. 46:19-22).
d. Bilhah had 7 living descendants. Her sons were Dan and Naphtali. Dan's son was Hushim. Naphtali's sons were Jahzeel, Guni, Jezer and Shillem (Gen. 46:23-25).