Genesis 36-39: The early life of Joseph and his brothers.

March 9, 2015.

Daily Reading: Genesis 36-39.

Background: Genesis 32-35.

Concepts and Connections.

Chapter 36

Esau’s (Edom) descendants: The lineage of Esau is full of many names that likely sound unfamiliar and do not have detailed stories about the lives of those named, as the plan of God was to be fulfilled through Jacob and not Esau. However, there are some interesting things that can be seen in this lineage. First, it is noteworthy to mention the presence of Basemath, a daughter in the lineage of Ishmael, the son of Abraham, which shows the interconnection of Ishmael and Esau (Edom), which possibly relates to the Arab and Islamic lineage to Abraham. Secondly, Esau is repeatedly also referred to as Edom here, making it clear that the nation of Edom, which is quite relevant in later events, is descendant from Esau. Also interesting to note is Teman the son of Eliphaz, who is possibly (though it isn’t certain) the ancestor of the Temanites, from whom Job’s friend Eliphaz (notice the characteristic repetition of names) came from (see Job 2:11). The sons of Esau would go on to form great nations, which have a history that is still known today in the Middle East. If you go through these names and look them up, you will find they they were ancient (or even modern) cities, some of great importance. It is interesting to see the names listed in a genealogy used in other history, outside of the scriptures.

Chapter 37

1. Joseph’s dreams: Joseph, one of Jacob’s youngest sons, had a bad start with his brothers. As we will see in a minute, he was the favorite child of his father, and he had brought a bad report to his father about his brothers when they were out in the field. This chapter starts off with Joseph as a teenager who starts to have dreams that seem to correlate to himself and his family. His first dream is about the harvest, where he and his brothers were binding sheaves in the field as his sheave rose up to stand above the sheaves of his brothers and his brother’s sheaves bowed down to his sheave. His brothers understood this dream to imply that Joseph would reign over them, though he was the youngest (aside from Benjamin), and they did not take to this message well. Joseph then had a second dream in which the sun, moon and eleven stars bowed down to him, which even his father understood to mean that he, his mother and his brothers would bow down to Joseph. Jacob rebuked Joseph for this idea, but it is interesting to note that the text says that Jacob kept these sayings in his mind. These dreams, along with the favoritism of Joseph by his father, would lead to a tense jealousy and rivalry between Joseph and his brothers and the eventual forced separation of Joseph from his family. Little did his brothers know, however, that their act of evil God would use to fulfill the dreams he had sent Joseph, as can be seen in Genesis 42.

2. Family relations: As mentioned earlier, there were many family dynamics at play in the house of Jacob that caused bitter jealousy of Joseph from his brothers. If one needed yet another reason to show why favoritism in a family causes many problems, you would need look no further than Joseph, who was loved most by his father Jacob out of his brothers. Further, Joseph had given Jacob a bad report (though likely an honest report) about his brothers who were out in the field. On top of all this, Joseph shared the dreams he had that implied that they would bow down to him, which enraged them even more. Though this family would go on to father the whole nation of Israel, you could say their family was dysfunctional at best. So, when the opportunity arose to eliminate their problem, it is no surprise that Joseph’s brothers jumped at the opportunity.

Even though his brothers were mad at him, they did not all feel the same level of animosity towards him. Perhaps it was Ruben’s age that caused him to be more mature in the situation (though still not to the point of defending an innocent person), as he stopped his brothers from killing Joseph by convincing them to throw him in a pit, thinking to himself that he would com back later and rescue Joseph when his brothers had left. However, the rest of his brothers seem very committed, even eating a meal in good conscience beside the bit that they had just thrown Joseph into (see parallel with Jehu and Jezebel, II Kings 9:30-37). Eventually, it was decided (apparently without the presence of Ruben) that Joseph should be sold into the hands of the Ishmaelites for silver so that they would not shed the blood of their brother. When Ruben returned and found Joseph gone, he tore his clothes and went to his brothers. Then they took the coat of Joseph, put blood on it, and took it to their father who assumed that Joseph was dead and mourned for many days. The family was completely dysfunctional at this point, with bitter jealousy, cover ups and lies that resonated throughout. We should see the mistakes made here and learn to avoid them in our own lives.

Meanwhile, Joseph had been sold into the hands of one Potiphar, captain of the guard of Pharaoh. We will see that though his brothers meant harm for Joseph, the Lord would be with him and His providence would eventually lead Joseph into a position that would allow him to save his own brethren.

Chapter 38

1. The sin of Onan: In chapter 38, we get a temporary digression from the story of Joseph to follow an interesting story of Judah and his sons. Both stories are stories of sin. To introduce the sin of Onan, it must first be noted that Judah went away from his brothers and found a certain woman of the Canaanites, the daughter of Shua, who he took as a wife. The daughter of Shua bore three sons to Judah, Er, Onan and Shelah. It would seem that Er and Onan were considerably older than Shelah, as we will gather from the context that follows. Perhaps due to a lack of a good example from his father, Er did evil in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord struck him down. As was the custom (and would later be part of the Law of God, see Deuteronomy 25:5-10), it was Onan’s duty to his fallen brother to go into his brother’s wife, Tamar, and have a child who would be raised up as the son of Er, to carry on his name. But Onan knew that if he did this, then the child would not ever be his, and he would not be raised after his name. Onan did not like that idea, so whenever he went into Er’s wife, he would “spill his semen on the floor,” obviously negating the possibility of her getting pregnant and bearing a son. This too was evil in the sight of the Lord, and Onan was struck down just as Er was. Frightened that what had happened to Er and Onan would also happen to his youngest son Shelah, Judah told Tamar to go and stay in her father’s house until Shelah was old enough to raise up children after the name of Er; but Judah had no intention of giving Shelah to Tamar for this purpose.

2. The sin of Judah: The second story of sin in this chapter is very related to the first. Judah’s character is revealed more in this section, and it is a character that one would not like to see amongst the people of God. Judah was the brother who suggested selling Joseph into slavery. Judah’s sons seemed to have grown up under a bad example of their father. Judah withholds his youngest son from Tamar out of fear, but lies to her about it. And then we find Judah going into a woman whom he thought was a prostitute after his wife died. Judah’s life seemed to be riddled with unrighteousness, and it would seem he would come to this realization at the end of this chapter.

Nevertheless, Tamar, the wife of Judah’s first son, Er, had been sent to her father’s house to await Shelah’s child bearing age so that Shelah could raise up a child after Er, who had died because of his wickedness before the Lord. When Tamar heard that Judah her father-in-law had come to her region, and she knew that Shelah had reached the right age but had not been given to her, she took off her widow’s garments, covered her face and posed as a cult prostitute when Judah came by. Judah saw her and asked to go in with her, but she cleverly found a way of holding Judah’s staff, chord and signet as a pledge, which she would later use prove that it was her Judah had went into, for she hid her face so that Judah would not know who she was (though it may seem like Judah should have been able to recognize her at least by her voice, bear in mind that he had sent her to her father’s house years ago, not any time recently). She did get pregnant by Judah, and when it was told Judah that Tamar had gotten pregnant out of immorality (for she was a widow in her father’s house, awaiting Judah’s youngest son Shelah), Judah was very upset and ordered that she be brought out to be burned. It is ironic to note here, that it was Judah’s immorality of going into a prostitute that had caused this event, yet it was seemingly very easy for him to look over his own sin while demanding punishment for the sin of others. However, when Tamar showed Judah his staff, chord and signet, Judah realized his sin and said that Tamar was more righteous than he was, for he was never going to give her his son Shelah. Tamar bore Judah twins and their names were Perez and Zerah. It is interesting also to note here that though Perez was the son of a sinful relationship, Perez was blessed by the Lord in being in the lineage of Christ (see Matthew 1:3). Remember that we are not the sin of our parents.

Chapter 39

1. Having the Lord’s blessings: The story of the life of Joseph is one of the best examples in the bible to show the absolute plan and providence of God working through a child of His. Notice that this didn’t mean that Joseph would have an easy life (on the contrary, he would go through much difficulty), but in each stage of his life we see the Lord by his side. When his brothers sold him into slavery, they meant it for harm. But God used it for good. When he was in the house of Potiphar’s house, captain of the guard of Pharaoh, the Lord was with him in a way that even Potiphar saw it and but Joseph, as hebrew slave, in charge of his whole house. This would imply the deep trustworthiness of Joseph. Even when Potiphar’s wife falsely accused him of laying with her and got Joseph thrown in prison (where the king kept his prisoners), the guard of the prison too saw that the Lord was with Joseph in all that he did and he put him in charge of all the prisoners. Joseph, though sold into slavery and imprisoned, always had the favor of the Lord, who’s providence was leading him into a position of power, second in command in the kingdom of Egypt (see Genesis 41:37-49). Let us use the story of Joseph to see that the Lord can be with us even when our situation is less than ideal. The Lord had a bigger plan and purpose for Joseph. He too could have the same for us.

2. Fleeing from a difficult situation: In the middle of the story of Joseph’s slavery and prison, we find that Joseph was a very handsome man, and the wife of Potiphar desired to lay with him. Time and again she tries to coax Joseph into having and affair with her, but Joseph’s integrity holds firm. He can’t even imagine doing such a grievous evil to his master, especially after he had given him all that he had. But Potiphar’s wife kept on trying, until one day when all the men were out of the house, she caught him by the garment. What did Joseph do? He left his garment and ran. Potiphar’s wife would then go on to use the garment to falsely accuse Joseph which would land him in the king’s prison, but the lesson here is that Joseph fled from sin in order to avoid it. He did not want to even entertain the idea, even if it meant a better chance at proving his innocence. Joseph fled. Lust is a powerful drive that can easily lead many into sin. Even just entertaining the idea of lust for a short amount of time is enough to get the heart hooked and committed to the sin. Joseph shows wisdom here as he got as far away from it as possible. Paul echoes this principle in I Corinthians 6:18, telling us to flee sexual immorality. We are to run far away from it, not tread the line. There is much wisdom that goes into this admiration, and we would be wise to listen to it as opposed to justifying our proximity to this sin.

Tomorrow’s Reading: Ruth.

The Lord bless you and keep you.


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