THE PENTATEUCH PART I: GENESIS
LESSON 16: Genesis 37:2-40:23
The Story of Joseph and His Brothers Part I
Through our trials and tribulations we turn to You, Lord, as the source of our comfort and as the hope of our deliverance. The story of Your servant Joseph is a story of hope. If Joseph could have faith in You and hope in his salvation in the dungeons of Pharaoh, we can have faith and hope in You to guide us in our daily struggles. Help us to have the wisdom to avoid the pits into which we might be thrown by uncaring "brothers" and give us the mercy to forgive those who hurt us as Joseph forgave his brothers. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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And Joseph was
loved by his father a great deal. And he gave him a multicolored garment as an
excellent gift and proof of the love with which he accompanied him. And this
was an incentive to envy for his brothers and a cause of hatred, as the
following events will demonstrate. In fact, the Pharisees were inflamed with
anger against the beloved, that is, Christ, because he had been clothed by God
the Father with a multiform glory. He was admirable in different forms, partly
as a vivifying God, partly as a light that was able to illuminate those who
were in the darkness, and to purify the lepers, and to raise from the dead
those who were already decomposing, and to reprove the seas and to be carried
on the waves through his power.
St. Cyril of Alexandria (375-444), Glaphyra, Genesis 6.4 (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, vol. I, pages 231-32)
This final part of the Genesis narrative continues with the fourth biography, the story of Joseph son of Jacob/Israel. The story of Joseph from Genesis chapters 37 -50 can be divided into a 10 part chiastic pattern.
Chiastic pattern of the Epic of Joseph son of Jacob:
A. Joseph dreams that he rules over his family (37:2-11)
B. Jacob mourns the death of Joseph (37:12-36)
C. Judah's story (38:1-30)
D. Joseph's enslavement in Egypt (39:1-23)
E. Joseph becomes the savior of Egypt (40:1-41:57)
E. Joseph becomes the savior of his family (46:28-47:12)
D. Joseph's enslavement of Egyptians (47:12-31)
C. Judah's story continued (48:1-49:28)
B. Joseph mourns Jacob's death (49:33-50:14)
A. Joseph rules over Egypt and his family (50:15-26)
The fathers of the Church saw the story of Joseph, the beloved son of Jacob, and his brothers as an allegory for the story of Jesus and His brothers, the Jews. They saw Jacob as a figure of God the Father and his beloved son Joseph as a "type" of the Christ who God identified as His Son at Jesus' Baptism, declaring "This is my beloved Son" (Gen 37:3; Mt 3:17). The gift of Joseph's multi-colored coat came to represent the multiform glory of the Son that He manifested during His three year ministry, which caused Jesus' brothers the Jews, like Joseph's brothers, to come to envy Him and to conspire to kill him. To the fathers of the Church, Joseph's coat of many colors given him by his loving father as a sign of his authority over his brothers not only came to represent the gifts of power God gave His beloved Son, but also the spiritual gifts God gave His Son's Bride, the Universal Church, as a sign her authority over the brotherhood of the human family.
|Joseph's father gave him authority over his brothers.||Jesus was given all authority from God the Father.|
|Joseph escaped death by going into Egypt.||Jesus escaped death by going into Egypt.|
|He was betrayed by his brothers, the sons of Jacob/Israel.||Jesus was betrayed by his brothers, the sons of Israel - the Jews.|
|Joseph's brothers believed he was dead, but he was found to be alive and became the savior of his family.||Jesus was believed to be dead, but He was found to be alive. He was Resurrected from the dead.|
|Joseph was the beloved son of Jacob/Israel.||Jesus is a "son" of Israel (descendant of Jacob/Israel), and He is also the beloved Son of God.|
M. Hunt © copyright 2000
A Summary of Joseph's Life:
Time line BC:
-Abraham in Canaan -Abraham d. 1900 -c.1750 Hammurabi Code
-Jacob b. 1915 -Hyksos rulers in Egypt
-Joseph in Egypt
d = died; b = born
Please read Genesis 37:2-11: Joseph and His Brothers
37:2This is the story (toledot*) of Joseph. Joseph was seventeen years old. As he was young, he was shepherding the flock with his brothers, with the sons of his father's wives, Bilhah and Zilpah, and Joseph brought his father bad reports about them. 3Jacob loved Joseph more than all his other sons, for he was the son of his old age, and he had a decorated tunic made for him. 4But his brothers, seeing how much more his father loved him than all his other sons, came to hate him so much that they could not say a civil word to him. 5Now Joseph had a dream, and he repeated it to his brothers, who then hated him more than ever. 6'Listen,' he said, 'to the dream I had. 7We were binding sheaves in the field, when my sheaf suddenly rose and stood upright, and then your sheaves gathered round and bowed to my sheaf.' 8'So you want to be king over us,' his brothers retorted, 'you want to lord it over us?' And they hated him even more on account of his dreams and of what he said. 9He had another dream which he recounted to his brothers. 'Look, I have had another dream,' he said. 'There were the sun, the moon and eleven stars, bowing down to me.' 10He told his father and brothers, and his father scolded him. 'A fine dream to have!' he said to him. 'Are all of us then, myself, your mother and your brothers, to come and bow to the ground before you?' 11His brothers held it against him, but his father pondered the matter.
This section of the Genesis narrative begins the toledot(h), the history, of Joseph. The key word in this part of the narrative is the word "brother(s)." This word is repeated twenty-one times in the narrative: by the narrator fifteen times in 37:2, 4 [2 times], 5, 6, 9, 10, 11, 12, 17, 19, 23, 26, 27, 30; by Jacob three times in 37:10, 13, 14; once by Joseph in 37:16; and twice by Judah in 37:26, 27. Also notice the significant repetition of "threes" in the narrative: i.e. three days (40:13, 18-19; 42:17), three months (38:24); three times repetitions of words (37:3, 23, 32); three things (37:25; 40:10, 12, 13, 16, 18); three hundred (45:22); thirty-three sons and daughters (46:15).
Question: How old was Joseph at the beginning of this
part of the narrative?
Answer: He was seventeen years old.
Joseph lived with Jacob for the first seventeen years of his life, but Jacob will live with Joseph in Egypt for the last seventeen years of his life (Gen 47:28). Such symmetry in Scripture points to God's providence in fulfilling His divine plan (Waltke, page 499). Nothing recorded in Scripture is by accident. When we observe such symmetry we are meant to be reminded that God has a definitive plan and that even when the instrument of God's plan is harmed by the evil intent of wicked men, God will still use those events, turning a bad deed into a blessing to further His plan for man's salvation.
Genesis 37:2: As he was young, he was shepherding the flock with his brothers, with the sons of his father's wives, Bilhah and Zilpah/ and Joseph brought his father bad reports about them.
Question: Who were the brothers to whom Joseph was assigned to help with the flocks?
See the chart of the Sons of Jacob in Lesson 13, handout #1.
Answer: Dan, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher.
The terms "wife" and "concubine" are used more loosely in this period. The slaves of Leah and Rachel are auxiliary wives to Jacob who are subordinate to Leah who was the "chief wife." After the era of the patriarchs the term "wife" is never used as a synonym for a concubine (Waltke, page 411).
Joseph's "bad reports" on their bad habits annoyed his brothers. The real problem in Joseph's relationship with his brothers was, however, Jacob's undisguised preference for Joseph.
Question: What became a sign to the brothers of
Jacob's greater love for Joseph, and why did this sign infuriate them and cause
them to hate Joseph? Compare Joseph's status in Genesis 37:2 to his status
after receiving this "sign" in 37:12-14.
Answer: Joseph was the second youngest son but their father gave him an expensive coat. The coat was probably a sign that their father has made Joseph the re'shiyt, the heir with the status of the "firstborn." The coat changed Joseph's status from "shepherd helper" to his older brothers to the supervisor over their work
Genesis 37:3: Jacob loved Joseph more than all his other sons, for he was the son of his old age, and he had a decorated tunic made for him. Some translators interpret the description of Joseph's garment as a coat "of many colors," while other translators render the description as a "long sleeved tunic," or as a "decorated tunic." The word used to describe Joseph's coat/tunic is the rare Hebrew word passim, which is used three times to describe Joseph's coat (Gen 37:3, 23, 32). The only other place this word is found in Scripture is when it is used twice to describe the royal garment worn by King David's daughter Princess Tamar and his other daughters (2 Sam 13:18 and 19). Aaron, the first high priest of the Sinai Covenant was also given a decorated coat/tunic as a sign of his priestly authority (Ex 28:31-35). The coat was a symbol of Joseph's elevated status over his brothers; otherwise the giving of the coat would not have generated such hatred (Interlinear Bible, vol. 1, page 98; Interlinear Bible, vol. II, page 835; Brown-Driver-Biggs, page 821 #6446).
Joseph had two dreams that he shared with his family. The first dream was set in the harvesting of the grain in which the harvesters tied together bundles of the long grain stalks and set them upright in the field. The second dream had a celestial setting.
Question: What did Joseph's dreams suggest and why was
it that the revelations of those dreams upset his brothers and caused his
father to rebuke him?
Answer: His dreams suggested that one day he was destined to rule over his entire family.
Question: What was the significance of a double dream
with the same message? See Genesis 41:32 for Joseph's explanation of double
Answer: A double dream indicated an event already determined by God that will soon be fulfilled.
In his rebuke to Joseph, Jacob mentioned of "your mother." This reference to Joseph's "mother" does not refer Rachel, who died in childbirth soon after Jacob left Bethel in Genesis 35:16-20 when Joseph was still a child. The reference was to Leah as the chief wife who was now Joseph's legal "mother." Leah would also have been considered the "legal" mother of the sons of the slave-girls/concubines. In Genesis 42:13, during Joseph's first meeting with his brothers after they sold him into slavery, his brothers spoke of being the twelve sons of a single man, and they also mentioned the youngest brother who was at home with their father. Joseph did not express surprise that there was a twelfth brother. If Rachel was still alive before Joseph was sold into slavery, he would not have known about Benjamin.
Question: How are the sons of Jacob united, and how
are they divided?
Answer: The twelve sons of Jacob are united by flesh and blood of Jacob and by the covenantal rite of circumcision, but they are divided by jealousy, hatred, and their father's preference for one son over the others.
Please read Genesis 37:12-36: Joseph Begins His Journey
37:12His brothers went to pasture their father's flock at Shechem. 13Then Israel said to Joseph, 'Your brothers are with the flock at Shechem, aren't they? Come, I am going to send you to them.' 'I am ready,' he replied. 14He said to him, 'Go and see how your brothers and the flock are doing, and bring me word.' He sent him from the valley of Hebron, and Joseph arrived at Shechem. 15A man found him wandering in the countryside and asked him, 'What are you looking for?' 16'I am looking for my brothers,' he replied. 'Please tell me where they are pasturing their flock.' 17The man answered, 'They have moved on from here; indeed I heard them say, "Let us go to Dothan."' So Joseph went after his brothers and found them at Dothan. 18They saw him in the distance, and before he reached them they made a plot to kill him. 19Here comes that dreamer,' they said to one another. 20'Come on, let us kill him now and throw him down one of the storage-wells; we can say that some wild animal has devoured him. Then we shall see what becomes of his dreams.' 21But Reuben heard, and he saved him from their clutches. 'We must not take his life,' he said. 22'Shed no blood,' said Reuben to them, 'throw him down that well out in the desert, but do not kill him yourselves' intending to save him from them and to restore him to his father. 23So, when Joseph reached his brothers, they pulled off his tunic, the decorated tunic which he was wearing, 24and catching hold of him, threw him into the well. The well was empty, with no water in it. 25They then set down to eat (bread*). Looking up, they saw a group of Ishmaelites who were coming from Gilead, their camels laden with gum tragacanth, balsam and resin, which they were taking to Egypt. 26Then Judah said to his brothers, 'What do we gain by killing our brother and covering up his blood? 27Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, then we shall not have laid hands on him ourselves. After all, he is our brother, and our own flesh.' His brothers agreed. 28Now some Midianite merchants were passing, and they pulled Joseph out of the well. They sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver, and these men took Joseph to Egypt. 29When Reuben went back to the well, there was no sign of Joseph. Tearing his clothes, 30he went back to his brothers. 'The boy has gone,' he said. 'What am I going to do?' 31Then they took Joseph's tunic and, slaughtering a goat, dipped the tunic in the blood. 32Then they sent off the decorated tunic and had it taken to their father, with the message, 'This is what we have found. Do you recognize it as your son's tunic or not? 33He recognized it and cried, 'My son's tunic! A wild animal has devoured him! Joseph has been torn to pieces!' 34Tearing his clothes and putting sackcloth round his waist, Jacob mourned his son for many days. 35All his sons and daughters tried to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. 'No,' he said, 'I will go down to Sheol in mourning and join my son.' Thus his father wept for him. 36Meanwhile the Midianites had sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh's officials (a eunuch of Pharaoh*) and commander of the guard (the chief of the executioner*).
* = literal (Interlineal Bible: Hebrew-English, vol. I, pages 100-101).
In the Hebrew text of Genesis 37:36 and 39:1, Potiphar is identified by the Hebrew word caric [saw-reece], from a Hebrew root meaning "to castrate" (The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, page 710). Potiphar is identified as a eunuch as are the cupbearer and baker who served the Pharaoh's household in 40:2 and verse 7. It was the practice in the ancient Near East for boys/men who served in the king's/pharaoh's household to be castrated. These men often developed a close, personal bond with the ruler and were often promoted to important leadership roles within the state, serving as "ministers" of the ruler. Potiphar was such a man. It was not uncommon for such men to make politically advantageous marriages and to adopt children to inherit their estates.
Question: What are the three place-names mentioned in
Genesis 37:12-17? Consult a map of Canaan and identify each of the places named.
Answer: Shechem, the Valley of Hebron, and Dothan.
In this part of the narrative Jacob is living at Hebron. After living at Shechem and near Bethel hill, Abraham settled at Hebron where God appeared to him three different times. The third time was the theophany where God announced a second time that Sarah would have a son (see Gen 13:18; 15:1-21; 17:1-22; and 18:1-15). Hebron is where Abraham purchased the field and the cave where he buried Sarah and where both Abraham and Isaac spent the final years of their lives (Gen 23:17-20; 25:9; 36:27). Jacob has now completed Abraham's spiritual journey through the "promised land."
These place-names are significant:
37:12His brothers went to pasture their father's flock at Shechem.
13Then Israel said to Joseph, 'Your brothers are with the flock at Shechem, aren't they? Come, I am going to send you to them.' 'I am ready,' he replied.
14He said to him, 'Go and see how your brothers and the flock are doing, and bring me word.' He sent him from the valley of Hebron, and Joseph arrived at Shechem.
Notice since the gift of the coat that Joseph's status had been elevated from assistant shepherd to his older brothers (Gen 37:2) to supervisor over his brothers who are tending Jacob's flocks.
Question: If Jacob gave his sons orders to take the
flocks to the valley near Shechem and they are at Dothan instead, how many
miles are they distant from their assigned grazing area? Are Jacob's sons
obedient or does this explain why they needed a supervisor?
Answer: Shechem is 40 miles north of Jerusalem and Dothan is 60 miles north. Jacob's sons are 20 miles off course. Yes it does! Jacob's sons are not especially obedient.
Genesis 37:17-19: 17The man answered, 'They have moved on from here; indeed I heard them say, "Let us go to Dothan."' So Joseph went after his brothers and found them at Dothan. 18They saw him in the distance, and before he reached them they made a plot to kill him. 19Here comes that dreamer,' they said to one another.
Question: What were the two reasons why the brothers
were motivated to kill Joseph when he came to them at Dothan? What do they
plan to do?
Answer: They are motivated to kill him because of their jealousy of him over their father's preference and because he has caught them where they should not have been, which he was surely going to report to their father. They plan to throw Joseph down one of the dry wells in the desert.
The brothers criticized Joseph for being a "dreamer" and plotted his death, but ironically it will be Joseph's interpretation of dreams that will result in saving them from death in the regional famine later in the story.
Genesis 37:21-27: 37:21But Reuben heard, and he saved him from their clutches. 'We must not take his life,' he said. 22'Shed no blood,' said Reuben to them, 'throw him down that well out in the desert, but do not kill him yourselves' intending to save him from them and to restore him to his father. 23So, when Joseph reached his brothers, they pulled off his tunic, the decorated tunic which he was wearing, 24and catching hold of him, threw him into the well. The well was empty, with no water in it. 25They then set down to eat (bread*). Looking up, they saw a group of Ishmaelites who were coming from Gilead, their camels laden with gum tragacanth, balsam and resin, which they were taking to Egypt. 26Then Judah said to his brothers, 'What do we gain by killing our brother and covering up his blood? 27Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, then we shall not have laid hands on him ourselves. After all, he is our brother, and our own flesh.' His brothers agreed.
Question: What did the brothers first decide to do to
Joseph, but what did Reuben, the eldest brother, suggest instead?
Answer: They decided to kill Joseph, but Reuben suggested that they put Joseph down a dry well and leave him to die of starvation, intending to return later to rescue him.
Before throwing Joseph down the well they stripped him of his hated sign of authority over them. They took away his coat. In their callous indifference to Joseph's cries for mercy (Gen 42:21), they ate a meal (Gen 37:25) even though they know that they have condemned their brother to a death of starvation. Ironically, the next meal that Scripture will record them eating will be when they eat in the presence of the disguised Joseph as their host at an Egyptian banquet (Gen 43:32-34).
Question: After Ruben left what was Judah's alternate plan for getting rid of Joseph? Whose plan did the brother's accept?
Answer: Judah saw an opportunity to make some money without soiling their hands with their brother's blood and suggested selling Joseph to a passing caravan traveling down to Egypt. The brother's followed Judah's plan.
The brothers listened to Reuben at first but later accepted Judah's leadership. Reuben was the acknowledged "firstborn" with the authority of the father until his attempt to usurp his father's authority over the tribe by possessing his father's concubine (Gen 35:21-22; 49:3-4). Simeon and Levi have been judged unfit to lead the tribe since the massacre at Shechem. That leaves Judah as the next in line, and when he proposed the opportunity to make a profit and get rid of Joseph at the same time without being guilty of shedding his blood, they rejected Reuben's leadership and adopted Judah's plan to sell Joseph into slavery. This is the beginning of the rivalry for power between Judah and Joseph that will continue with their respective tribes (the tribes of Judah and Ephraim). It will be a prince from the line of Joseph (Jeroboam of Ephraim) who will lead the rebellion against King Solomon's son Rehoboam (the legitimate Davidic king of Israel from the tribe of Judah) in 930 BC, splitting the Kingdom of Israel into two the rival kingdoms of Israel in the North and Judah in the South (1 Kng 11:26; 12:20).
Genesis 37:28: Now some Midianite merchants were passing, and they pulled Joseph out of the well. They sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver, and these men took Joseph to Egypt.
Although the text seems unclear as to who actually sold Joseph, the Ishmaelites or the brothers, in Genesis 45:4 Joseph identifies those who sold him into slavery as his brothers. Notice the repetition of the three verbs: "pulled Joseph," "sold Joseph," and "took Joseph," in the description of Joseph's abduction.
The Ishmaelites, who are the descendants of Ishmael the son Abraham by Hagar, and the Midianites, the descendants of Abraham by Keturah, lived in neighboring regions. They intermarried and joined in the caravan trade selling valuable spices and aromatic gums from Mesopotamia to Egypt. The caravan was coming from Gilead - the region of the Transjordan than extended south to the region of the Dead Sea. They were traveling along the trade route known as the King's Highway that extended down the east side of the Jordan River (the region known as Gilead; see Gen 31:21-25) through Damascus south to the Gulf of Aqaba. Coming up from the south they probably crossed the Jordan River with the intention of taking the branch of the ancient highway that joined to the other great trade route known as the Way of the Sea. One of the roads which connected the two great trade routes passed just west of Dothan and joined the Way of the Sea that continuing southward, hugging the Mediterranean coast line and extending down to Egypt (Archaeological Study Bible, page 63).
Question: What three kinds of trade goods are
mentioned in the narrative?
Answer: The caravan was carrying valuable aromatic gum, sweet smelling balsam, and myrrh.
Aromatic gums were tree resins used whole or pulverized into a powers and worn as sachets, or mixed with olive oil to make perfumes, or with bee's wax to form perfumed cones which the Egyptians wore on their head at banquets to give off a continuous fragrant odor. Balsam was a transparent pale yellow fragrant gum used for incense or mixed with water and used as an ointment. Myrrh was a fragrant tree resin that was used for perfumes and to embalm the dead, a cultural practice perfected by the Egyptians (Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 5, pages 226-228). Exodus 30:23-25 lists a recipe for anointing oil that contained myrrh, cinnamon, aromatic cane, cassia, and olive oil.
Question: What was the profit the nine sons of Jacob
made from selling their brother (Reuben, Joseph, and Benjamin are not included
in the count)?
Answer: They sold Joseph to the merchants for 20 shekels.
Ancient contracts for the purchase of slaves support that 20 shekels was the going rate for a healthy male slave in the 2nd millennium (Lev 27:5). Egyptian documents record the sale of Semitic slaves in Egypt. A document from the c. 1800 BC records four Semitic slaves the Egyptian pharaoh received as a gift from his brother and a papyrus dated to 1740 BC lists an inventory of ninety-five slaves, of whom thirty-seven were "Asiatic"/Semitic (Archaeology and the Old Testament, page 146, note 2).
Question: Under the Sinai Covenant what will the
penalty be for selling one's brother/kinsmen into slavery? See Deuteronomy
Answer: It will be a death penalty offense.
Question: What was Reuben's motivation in wanting to
save Joseph? Could there have been an altruistic motive rather than a purely
unselfish motive? See Genesis 35:22 and 37:29-30.
Answer: It is possible that he truly wanted to save his brother, but it may also have been his plan that saving Joseph could have won his father's forgiveness for his act of rebellion and incest in sleeping with his father's concubine. It is interesting that in 37:29-30 when he discovered that Joseph was not in the well that Reuben did not express any grief over what will happen to Joseph but only over what will happen to him now that he has failed in his plan.
Genesis 37:31-33: 37:31Then they took Joseph's tunic and, slaughtering a goat, dipped the tunic in the blood. 32Then they sent off the decorated tunic and had it taken to their father, with the message, 'This is what we have found. Do you recognize it as your son's tunic or not? 33He recognized it and cried, 'My son's tunic! A wild animal has devoured him! Joseph has been torn to pieces!'
Question: How did the sons of Jacob deceive their
father? Did vicious animals really attack Joseph? What was ironic about their
actions and their lie?
Answer: They sent back Joseph's torn and bloody coat by a messenger, suggesting that Joseph had been devoured by wild animals. It is ironic that Jacob, who deceived his father, has now been cruelly deceived by his own sons. It is also ironic that they did not have the courage to face their father themselves with their lie. Instead, they used a servant to carry the message that vicious animals must have killed Joseph, when they were the ones who were behaving like vicious animals instead of like brothers and loving sons.
Genesis 37:34-35: 37:34Tearing his clothes and putting sackcloth round his waist, Jacob mourned his son for many days. 35All his sons and daughters tried to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. 'No,' he said, 'I will go down to Sheol in mourning and join my son.' Thus his father wept for him.
Tearing one's garments and wearing sackcloth (a course, loose cloth) was a sign of severe distress or grief (see 2 Sam 3:31; 21:10; Est 4:1-4; etc.). Mourning a family member could last a week (Gen 50:10), a month, or up to seventy days. That all his "sons and daughters tried to comfort him" either means there were other daughters in addition to Dinah or the text is referring to Jacob's daughter-in-laws, who according to custom also became his "daughters." Sheol is the abode of the dead. It is called Hades in the Greek and it is the state that Jesus referred to as "Abraham's Bosom" (Lk 16:22; also see CCC 633).
Question: For how long did Jacob announce that he would
mourn the death of Joseph?
Answer: He intended to mourn for the rest of his life.
Meanwhile the Midianites had sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh's officials (a eunuch of Pharaoh*) and commander of the guard (the chief of the executioner*).
* = literal (Interlineal Bible: Hebrew-English, vol. I, pages 100-101).
Question: How did Joseph's tragedy become the prelude
to God fulfilling His prophecy to Abram in Genesis 15:13-16?
Answer: God revealed to Abraham in Genesis 15:13-16: Then Yahweh said to Abram, 'Know this for certain, that your descendants will be exiles in a land not their own, and be enslaved and oppressed for four hundred years. But I shall bring judgment on the nation that enslaves them and later this they will leave, with many possessions. For your part, you will join your ancestors in peace; you will be buried at a happy old age. In the fourth generation they will come back here, for until then the iniquity of the Amorites will not have reached it full extend.' Joseph will be preparing the path upon which God's plan will progress to fulfillment.
Joseph was sold to an Egyptian named Potiphar, the commander of Pharaoh's guard. His name was a popular Egyptian name and has been found in Egyptian documents, but his name should be spelled Potiphera, meaning "he whom Ra has given." Ra was the Egyptian sun god.(1)
If the Jewish tradition that Abraham came to Canaan in the year 2000 BC is accurate, that would make the beginning of Joseph's exile during the last quarter of the 18th century BC. Egypt was the dominant regional power. With its abundance of fertile land, refresh in the annual Nile floods, Egypt's earliest agricultural communities emerged c. 5500 BC. By c. 3100 BC Egypt had become a unified and centralized state with a highly efficient political bureaucracy ruled by a god-king called the "great house" (Pharaoh). The Egyptians had a sophisticated writing system and a religion that embraced a pantheon of gods. The Egyptians were also great builders. The first pyramid (a tomb/launching point into eternity for the Egyptian Pharaoh) known as the stepped pyramid was built at Saqqara c. 2650 BC by Egypt's great Vizier and architect, Imhotep, for the 3rd dynasty king Djoser. It started a century of pyramid building, the apex of which is admired as the Great Pyramid of Giza, built c. 2580 during the reign of Pharaoh Khufu. The pyramid complex at Giza was guarded by the statue of the Great Sphinx, built c. 2530 BC (Egypt: Gods, Myths and Religion, Lucia Gahlin, Barnes & Noble Books, 2002, pages 6-23).
Egypt's state religion and national stability was united in the person of the reigning Pharaoh, an absolute monarch who was believed to derive his power from the gods and who formed a link between gods and men. For the Egyptians the pharaoh's role as mediator between the gods and mankind was essential in maintaining the divine order of the universe and the stability and prosperity of the nation. Joseph's pharaoh must have reigned in the 18th century BC during the period of Egypt's 15th Dynasty, during the time the foreign invaders known as the Hyksos controlled Lower (northern) Egypt (Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 3, "Hyksos," pages 341-46).(2)
Please read Genesis 38:1-11: Judah Takes a Canaanite Wife
38:1It happened at about that time that Judah left his brothers to go down and settle with a certain Adullamite called Hirah. 2There Judah saw the daughter of a Canaanite called Shua. He made her his wife and slept with her. 3She conceived and gave birth to a son whom she named Er. 4She conceived again and gave birth to a son whom she named Onan. 5Yet again she gave birth to a son whom she named Shelah. She was at Chezib when she gave birth to him. 6Judah took a wife for his first-born Er, and her name was Tamar. 7But Er, Judah's first-born, offended Yahweh, and Yahweh killed him. 8Then Judah said to Onan, 'Take your brother's wife, and do your duty as her brother-in-law, to maintain your brother's line (seed*).' 9But Onan, knowing that the line would not count as his, spilt his seed on the ground every time he slept with his brother's wife, to avoid providing offspring for his brother. 10What he did was offensive to Yahweh, who killed him too. 11Then Judah said to his daughter-in-law Tamar, 'Go home as a widow to your father, until my sons Shelah grows up,' for he was thinking, 'He must not die like his brothers.' So Tamar went home to her father.
The scene abruptly jumps from Joseph's enslavement to a story in the life of Judah, Jacob's fourth son by Leah. This part of the narrative records Judah's separation from his family, his marriage, and his relationship with a woman named Tamar. Tamar is an important figure in salvation history, although she is only mentioned in this short story and in three other passages in Scripture (Ruth 4:12, 1 Chr 2:4; Mt 1:3). Tamar is one of three non-Israelite women who are named in Jesus' genealogy together with Rahab the Canaanite from Jericho and Ruth the Moabitess (Bathsheba is not named but only referred to as "Uriah's wife"). Tamar was a Canaanite woman who became a bearer of the "promised seed!" Even in the cursed line of Canaan men and women were called to take part in God's plan of salvation in the preservation of the "promised seed."
Genesis 38:1-5: 38:1It happened at about that time that Judah left his brothers to go down and settle with a certain Adullamite called Hirah. 2There Judah saw the daughter of a Canaanite called Shua. He made her his wife and slept with her. 3She conceived and gave birth to a son whom she named Er. 4She conceived again and gave birth to a son whom she named Onan. 5Yet again she gave birth to a son whom she named Shelah. She was at Chezib when she gave birth to him.
The rupture in the unity of Jacob's family in the loss of Joseph was expanded in the defection of Jacob who left his father and brothers to settle with a friend who was from the Canaanite town of Adullam. It was a town that was described as a royal Canaanite city at the time of the conquest of Canaan (Josh 12:15) and was located about three miles southwest of Bethlehem. Judah's defection and his intermarriage with a Canaanite woman placed the covenant family and the line of the "promised seed" in greater jeopardy.
Question: How many children did Judah have with his Canaanite wife? What were their names?
Answer: He had three sons: Er, Onan, and Shelah.
At this time Judah was living at Chezib (Kezib), also called Aczib and Cozeba, a town that is mentioned in 1 Chronicles 4:21-22. Most scholars identify this town as southwest of Adullam, although its location is disputed.
Genesis 38:6-7: 38:6Judah took a wife for his first-born Er, and her name was Tamar. 7But Er, Judah's first-born, offended Yahweh, and Yahweh killed him.
Judah arranged a marriage for his firstborn son Er with a girl named Tamar, a name which probably means "palm" tree (McKenzie, Dictionary of the Bible, page 867). There may be a word play on Er's name. The reverse of the letters of his name is the Hebrew word for "evil, which explains his judgment and death.
Genesis 38:8-10: 38:8Then Judah said to Onan, 'Take your brother's wife, and do your duty as her brother-in-law, to maintain your brother's line (seed*).' 9But Onan, knowing that the line would not count as his, spilt his seed on the ground every time he slept with his brother's wife, to avoid providing offspring for his brother. 10What he did was offensive to Yahweh, who killed him too.
Question: What was the tradition which obligated a
man to marry his dead brother's wife? See
Leviticus 18:16; 20:21; Deuteronomy
25:5-10; Ruth 4:5, 10, 17; Matthew 22:23-30.
Answer: Under the Sinai Covenant a man was forbidden to marry his brother's wife unless his brother died childless. In that case it was the custom for a brother to marry his sister-in-law in order to give his dead brother a child to carry on his name (see Ruth 4:5, 10, 17; Matthew 22:23-3). In order to preserve the family line of the dead brother, the first son the woman bore became his heir.
This was also the custom for other ancient Near Eastern societies including the Hittites and the Assyrians (The Archaeological Study Bible, page 64).
Question: What three sins did Onan commit?
Question: Why did Onan practice birth-control in his
marital relations with Tamar and what was God's response to his sinful actions?
Answer: He did not want to have a son who would take a portion of his father's inheritance away from him. God condemned his action in preventing life as an evil act.
Genesis 38:11: Then Judah said to his daughter-in-law Tamar, 'Go home as a widow to your father, until my sons Shelah grows up,' for he was thinking, 'He must not die like his brothers.' So Tamar went home to her father.
Question: After his second son's death, why did Judah tell Tamar to return to her father's house? Was he sincere in his promise of a
future marriage with Shelah? How was Judah failing in his obligations to Tamar
in two ways?
Answer: No, Judah did not intend to allow Tamar marry Shelah. After losing two sons in marriage to Tamar he was fearful of risking his last son in his obligation to provide a husband for his daughter-in-law. He was also refusing to accept his obligations in caring for his daughter-in-law who was now a member of his family and for whom he was responsible.
In sending Tamar home to her father, Judah virtually condemned her to a life of destitute widowhood. Her father no longer had authority over her to give her in marriage to another man since she was officially betrothed to Judah's youngest son. She was no longer living in Judah's household but she was still under his authority, as we shall see in Genesis 38:24. Judah's youngest Shelah drops out of the narrative, but this son of Judah did survive. His Judahite clan is mentioned in Numbers 26:20 and in 1 Chronicles 4:21.
Please read Genesis 38:12-23: The Story of Judah and
38:12A long time passed, and then Shua's daughter, the wife of Judah, died. After Judah had been comforted he went up to Timnah for the shearing of his sheep, he and his friend Hirah the Adullamite. 13When Tamar was told, 'Look, your father-in-law is going up to Timnah for the shearing of his sheep,' 14she changed out of her widow's clothes, wrapped a veil around her to disguise herself, and sat down at the entrance to Enaim, which is on the way to Timnah; for she saw that, although Shelah was grown up, she had not been given to him as his wife. 15Judah, seeing her, took her for a prostitute, since her face was veiled. 16Going up to her on the road, he said, 'Here, let me sleep with you.' He did not know that she was his daughter-in-law. 'What will you give me for sleeping with you?' she asked. 17'I will send you a kid from the flock,' he said. 'Agreed, if you give me a pledge until you send it,' she replied. 18'What pledge shall I give you?' he asked. 'Your seal and cord and the staff you are holding,' she replied. He gave them to her and slept with her, and she conceived by him. 19Then she got up and left him and, taking off her veil, resumed her widow's weeds. 20Judah sent the kid by his friend the Adullamite, to recover the pledge from the woman. But he did not find her. 21He enquired from the men of the place, 'Where is the prostitute who was by the roadside at Enaim?' 'There has been no prostitute there,' they answered. 22So returning to Judah he said, 'I did not find her. What is more, the men of the place told me there had been no prostitute there.' 23'Let her keep the things,' Judah said, 'or we shall become a laughing-stock. At least I sent her this kid, even though you did not find her.'
Death seemed to be stalking Judah. He had lost two sons and now his wife has died. He went to Timnah, possibly Khirbet Tibneh which is about two miles south-southwest of Beth-Shemesh (see Josh 15:57), for the annual sheering. When it became obvious to Tamar that she was to be left a childless widow because Judah was refusing to honor his duty to provide for her, Tamar decided to take her destiny into her own hands (38:14). In a desperate plan to make a life for herself and to give her dead husbands an heir, Tamar, disguised as a prostitute, engaged in the act of sperm stealing. Her deception appears to the reader to be completely inappropriate, but she may have been exercising her rights consistent with the cultural norms of the times. According to the customs of her people, Tamar may have been within her rights in securing a child through her father-in-law. Documents of Hittite law and Middle Assyrian law stipulated that should a childless woman's husband die and the brothers of her deceased husband were also dead that she should marry her late husband's father in order to produce sons to carry on the family name (The Archaeological Study Bible, page 64).>
The Law of the Sinai Covenant, written over 400 years later, did not include the stipulation that a father should provide an heir for his dead son's widow if no other sons were willing or available to carry on the name of the deceased son. The Law of the Sinai Covenant did include the stipulation that a dead man's childless widow must not marry outside the family and her husband's brother should fulfill his duty by making her his wife. The first son born from this union was to assume the dead man's name and serve as the dead man's heir (Dt 25:5-6). However, the brother-in-law of the deceased man could not be forced to marry his sister-in-law (Dt 25:7-10). This stipulation, called the Levirate law (from the Latin levir, meaning brother-in-law and translated from the Hebrew yabam) could be exercised by any near blood kinsman, as in the case of Boaz and the widowed, childless Ruth in the Book of Ruth (Rt 4:1-10).
Tamar was sitting at the crossroads of Enaim and Timnah disguised as a prostitute when Judah approached and propositioned her.
Question: What three personal items did Tamar ask Judah to give her until he could pay her?
Answer: His seal, the cord that he wore around his neck with the seal, and his staff.
The seal was a small carved cylinder, usually made of stone or metal, with an insignia identifying the owner. The seal was used to impress the owner's identifying mark into a plug soft clay which was applied to legitimize legal documents or letters. Sometimes the seal was part of a ring but it could also be worn on a cord and carried around one's neck. Judah's staff was a symbol of his authority and carried his mark of ownership carved on its top. The 5th century BC traveler/historian Herodotus noted that Babylonians carried a seal and a staff with an identifying mark carved on to its top (Histories, 1.195), and this was also the practice in Canaan in the 18th century BC.
The personal seal was used to give an identifying mark signifying authority or ownership of an object or authenticated a legal document. Jesus declared that He was marked with his Father's seal: Do not work for food that goes bad, but work for food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of man will give you, for on him the Father, God himself, has set his seal (Jn 6:27)
Question: Does God put His seal upon those who belong
to Him? See CCC 1121; 1295-96.
Answer: Yes, baptized believers are marked by the indelible seal of God the Holy Spirit which marks the soul of the believer as belonging completely to Christ in the priesthood of believers. The Sacrament of Confirmation further emblazons the Holy Spirit's seal upon the believer's soul, commissioning him/her into service as Christ's apostle sent out to carry the Gospel of salvation to the world, and the Sacrament of Holy Orders sets God's seal upon the ministerial priesthood who is at the service of the baptismal priesthood.
Judah honored his pledge to the woman he believed was a prostitute by sending the payment of a kid via his good friend Hirah. It is interesting that when Judah's Canaanite friend inquired about the "prostitute" in 38:21 he used the word for a "sacred prostitute" (qedesa), which was a priestess of one of the Canaanite pagan cults that practiced ritual prostitution (also see Lev 20:10 and Dt 22:22). This was not the same word for "prostitute" used in verse 15, which was zona, the Hebrew term for a common harlot. Hirah's choice of the word for a temple prostitute reflected his cultural attitude toward prostitution.(3)
Question: When Judah's friend returned from his
unsuccessful mission, what was Judah's response? What was ironic about Judah's actions and his fears?
Answer: He was afraid "they" would become a source of amusement for the community (much like the scandals with politicians and prostitutes today) and decided to let the "prostitute" keep his personal items. It is ironic that he was more honorable in accepting his responsibility to pay a prostitute than in providing for his own daughter-in-law. It is also ironic that he was more worried about his reputation being harmed in this incident than his reputation being harmed in not providing for the widow of his dead sons.
Please read Genesis 38:24-30: Tamar Gives Birth to the
Bearer of the "Promised Seed"
38:24About three months later, Judah was told, 'Your daughter-in-law has played the harlot; furthermore, she is pregnant, as a result of her misconduct.' 'Bring her out,' Judah ordered, 'and let her be burnt alive!' 25But as she was being led off, she sent word to her father-in-law, 'It was the owner of these who made me pregnant. Please verify,' she said, 'whose seal and cord and staff these are.' 26Judah recognized them and said, 'She was right and I was wrong, since I did not give her to my son Shelah.' He had no further intercourse with her. 27When the time for her confinement came, there were twins in her womb! 28During the delivery, one of them put out a hand, and the midwife caught it and tied a scarlet thread to it, indicating that this was the first to arrive. 29Whereupon he drew back his hand, and out came his brother. Then she said, 'What a breach you have opened for yourself!' So he was name Perez. 30Then his brother came out with the scarlet thread on his hand, so he was named Zerah.
It is interesting that Judah, who did not want to be responsible for the care of his daughter-in-law, was still willing to exercise his authority over her by condemning her to death for the sake of the family honor. He was a man with a badly misplaced sense of honor.
Question: For what offense did Judah condemned Tamar? Why was he equally guilty?
Answer: Since she was legally betrothed to his son Shelah, she was guilty of adultery, a capital offense, and he condemned her to be burnt alive. He condemned her for a crime for which he was also guilty.
Under the Sinai Covenant, adultery was punishable by death (Lev 20:10; Dt 22:22). Some crimes of sexual immorality were punishable by public stoning (Dt 22:21, 24; Ez 16:40) and others were punishable by publically burning the transgressors (Lev 20:14; 21:9).
Question: How did Tamar turn the tables on Judah? What was his reaction?
Answer: She provided evidence that he was the father of her unborn child by producing his seal, the cord, and his staff. Judah acknowledged his sin by stating that Tamar was more righteous than he, and he accepted his responsibilities to her as the father of her child/children.
Question: What was significant about the birth of
Tamar's twins? How were both Tamar and Judah rewarded in the birth of the
Answer: Tamar received two sons in compensation for her two dead husbands and as a reward for her family loyalty. Judah received two sons back for the loss of his two sons and as a blessing for the confession and repentance of his sins.
Question: Why didn't Judah marry Tamar?
Answer: Judah acknowledged the children as belonging to his family but he will not sleep with his daughter-in-law again because to do so under his cultural norms would be considered incest.
Judah's experience became a turning point in his life. He returned to his father and his brothers. Tamar's actions in securing her rights were not only praised by Judah but Tamar was considered a heroine of the Jews and she was praised by the Church fathers:
Genesis 38:27-30: 27When the time for her confinement came, there were twins in her womb! 28During the delivery, one of them put out a hand, and the midwife caught it and tied a scarlet thread to it, indicating that this was the first to arrive. 29Whereupon he drew back his hand, and out came his brother. Then she said, 'What a breach you have opened for yourself!' So he was name Perez. 30Then his brother came out with the scarlet thread on his hand, so he was named Zerah.
Perez's name means "broken out"; the midwife explained the meaning of his name in that he had managed to push aside his brother to be born first. Zerah's name may mean "sunrise" (St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on Genesis 62.8.9). Both of Tamar's sons will become the ancestors of Judahite clans ( Gen 38:30; 46:12; Num 26:20; Jos 7:1, 17, 24; 22:20; 1 Kng 5:11; 1 Chr 2:4, 6; 9:6; 27:8, 11, 13; Neh 11:24; Ps 88:1; 89:1). It is also the name of two Edomite clans ( Gen 36:13, 17, 33; 1 Chr 1:37, 44).
Question: What is significant about the birth of the
twins that is the repeat of a reoccurring theme in Genesis? See Matthew 1:3.
Answer: Once again the younger has supplanted the elder son. This is a sign of God's divine election. It is Perez who will carry the "promised seed," but the twins are both mentioned in Matthew 1:3.
St. John Chrysostom saw Zerah yielding to his younger brother Perez as a prefiguring of the Old Covenant Church as the older sons who were meant to yield to the younger sons of the New Covenant Church universal (Homilies on Genesis 62.8.9), while St. Jerome saw the scarlet thread on the elder son Zerah as a sign of the Passion of the Christ on the hands of the Jews: What is one to say of Tamar, who brought to birth the twins Zerah and Perez? Their separation at the moment of birth was like a wall that divides two peoples, and the hand tied with the scarlet ribbon already then speckled the conscience of the Jews with the Passion of Christ (Ancient Christian Commentary of Scripture, vol. I, St. Jerome, "Letter 123.12", page 247).
Please read Genesis 39:1-6: Joseph's Life as a Slave in
39:1Now Joseph had been taken down into Egypt. Potiphar the Egyptian, one of Pharaoh's officials and commander of the guard, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had taken him down there. 2Yahweh was with Joseph, and everything he undertook was successful. He lodged in the house of his Egyptian master, 3and when his master saw how Yahweh was with him and how Yahweh made everything he undertook successful, 4he was pleased with Joseph and made him his personal attendant; and his master put him in charge of his household, entrusting his with all his possessions. 5And from the time he put him in charge of his household and all his possessions, Yahweh blessed the Egyptian's household out of consideration for Joseph; Yahweh's blessing extended to all his possessions, both household and estate. 6So he left Joseph to handle all his possessions, and with him there, concerned himself with nothing beyond the food (bread*) he ate.
* = literal translation (Interlineal Bible, vol. I, page 104).
Question: God was with Joseph and everything he did
was blessed by God. Even Potiphar benefited through Joseph's blessings. What
Abrahamic promised was fulfilled in Joseph's blessings and who else was blessed
through God's elect?
Answer: It is God's promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:3. Laban in the first 14 years of Jacob's marriage contract benefited from Jacob's blessings just as King Abimelech was blessed by his association with Abraham, and now Potiphar was blessed through his kindness to Joseph as an appreciative master.
The phrase "Yahweh was with Joseph/him" is repeated four times from 39:2-23. It is the promise God made to Jacob when he began his journey into exile in Genesis 28:15 which was now graciously extended to Joseph in his exile.
Please read Genesis 39:7-20: From Potiphar's Steward to
39:7Now Joseph was well built and handsome, and it happened some time later that his master's wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, 'Sleep with me.' 8But he refused. 'Look,' he said to his master's wife, 'with me here, my master does not concern himself with what happens in the house, having entrusted all his possessions to me. 9He himself wields no more authority in his house than I do. He has exempted nothing from me except yourself, because you are his wife. How could I do anything so wicked, and sin against God?' 10Although she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not agree to sleep with her or be with her. 11But one day when Joseph came into the house to do his work, and none of the men of the household happened to be indoors, 12she caught hold of him by his tunic and said, 'Sleep with me.' But he left the tunic in her hand, took to his heels and got out. 13When she saw that he had left the tunic in her hands as he ran out, 14she called her servants and said to them, 'Look at this! My husband brought in a Hebrew to make a fool of me! He burst in on me, but I screamed, 15and when he heard me scream, he left his tunic beside me and ran out of the house.' 16She kept his tunic by her until his master came home. 17Then she told him to same tale, 'The Hebrew slave you brought to us burst in on me to make a fool of me. 18But when I screamed, he left his tunic beside me and ran away.' 19When his master heard this wife say, 'This was how your slave treated me,' he became furious. 20Joseph's master had him arrested and committed to the gaol where the king's prisoners were kept. And there in gaol he stayed. 21But Yahweh was with Joseph. He showed him faithful love and made him popular with the chief gaoler. 22The chief gaoler put Joseph in charge of all the prisoners in the gaol, making him responsible for everything done there. 23The chief gaoler did not bother about anything put in his charge, since Yahweh was with him, and Yahweh made everything he understood successful.
Question: Contrast Joseph's rejection of Potiphar's
wife with Judah's response to a similar invitation to sin.
Answer: Unlike Judah, Joseph resisted the temptation to sin. He resisted sin because he could not bring himself to offend master who trusted him nor did he want to sin against God: How could I do anything so wicked, and sin against God? Judah, on the other hand, submitted himself to lust instead of submitting himself to God.
Question: To what prison did Potiphar send Joseph and
what was Potiphar's connection to this prison? See Genesis 40:3.
Answer: Joseph's master sent him to the prison that housed the king's prisoners over which he had jurisdiction.
Joseph was hit with two life altering tragedies: first he was sold into slavery by his brothers and now he has been falsely accused and thrown into prison. Despite his tragedies, he had not lost his faith in God and God rewarded Joseph's faith and trust by blessing him, even in the darkness of Pharaoh's dungeon: since Yahweh was with him, and Yahweh made everything he understood successful. Potiphar, the commander of the guard and Joseph's master, did not send Joseph to the mines or to the prison of the common criminals, instead he put him in the prison over which he had authority where the political prisoners and the more affluent men who offended the Pharaoh were kept. Joseph's abilities were again recognized and appreciated. The chief jailor put him in charge of all the prisoners and Potiphar, Joseph's master and commander of the guard which included the administration of the prison, personally selected Joseph to attend to Pharaoh's cup-bearer and baker (Gen 40:4).
Question: What phrase in this part of the narrative
sums up the theme of the story of Joseph? Also see Genesis 50:20.
Answer: Verse 21: But Yahweh was with Joseph. He showed him faithful love.... The theme of Joseph's story is that God can take a life crisis and the wicked acts done by bad men and through His grace He can overcome the evil and turn it into a good for those who trust Him. Joseph suffered from doing what was right in being obedient to his father and in refusing Potiphar's wife. Despite what happened to him, Joseph remained faithful to God as God continued to show His faithful love to sustain Joseph.
Please read Genesis 40:1-8: Joseph's Life in Prison
40:1It happened some time later that the king of Egypt's cup-bearer and his baker offended their master the king of Egypt. 2Pharaoh was angry with his two officials (eunuchs*), the chief cup-bearer and the chief baker, 3and put them in custody in the house of the commander of the guard, in the gaol where Joseph was a prisoner. 4The commander of the guard assigned Joseph to them to attend to their wants, and they remained in custody for some time. 5Now both of them had dreams on the same night, each with its own meaning for the cup-bearer and the baker of the king of Egypt, who were prisoners in the gaol. 6When Joseph came to them in the morning, he saw that they looked gloomy, 7and he asked the two officials (eunuchs*) who were in custody with him in his master's house, 8'Why these sad looks today?' They replied, 'We have each had a dream, but there is no one to interpret it.' Are not interpretations God's business?' Joseph asked them, 'Tell me about them.'
* = literal (Interlineal Bible: Hebrew-English, vol. I, pages 106-7).
Joseph the "dreamer" becomes Joseph the interpreter of dreams, but acknowledging that it is God who reveals to him the meaning of their dreams. Dreams were considered an important means of revelation. In Numbers 12:6 Yahweh said that dreams were a way in which He revealed his will to His prophets: Listen to my words! If there is a prophet among you, I reveal myself to him in a vision; I speak to him in a dream. For examples of dreams as revelations also see Gen 20:2; 28:12; 37:5-12; 31:1-55; 41:25; Judg 7:13-15; 1 Kng 3:5-15; Dan 2:3-45; 4:5-19; 7:1; Mt 1:20; 2:12-22
Genesis 40:4: The commander of the guard assigned Joseph to them to attend to their wants, and they remained in custody for some time. Joseph's master, the commander of Pharaoh's guard, who was also in charge of the prison for Pharaoh's prisoners, made Joseph responsible two high profile prisoners: Pharaoh's cup-bearer and baker. The two men where ministers in pharaoh's palace: the cup-bearer was responsible for all the wines served in the palace and personally tasted the Pharaoh's wine before handing it to his master (a precaution for poison control), while the baker was in charge of the production of the breads and pastries prepared for the pharaoh's table.
Please read Genesis 40:9-15: Joseph Interprets the Dream of the Cup-Bearer
40:9So the chief cup-bearer described his dream to Joseph, telling him, 'In my dream there was a vine in front of me. 10On the vine were three branches; no sooner had it budded then it blossomed, and its clusters became ripe grapes. 11I had Pharaoh's cup in my hand; I picked the grapes and squeezed them into Pharaoh's cup, and put the cup into Pharaoh's hand.' 12'This is what it means,' Joseph told him. 'The three branches are three days. 13In another three days Pharaoh will life up your head by restoring you to your position. Then you will hand Pharaoh his cup, as you did before, when you were his cup-bearer. 14But be sure to remember me when things go well with you, and keep faith with me by kindly reminding Pharaoh about me, to get me out of this house. 15I was kidnapped from the land of the Hebrews in the first place, and even here I have done nothing to warrant being put in the dungeon.'
Question: What did Joseph reveal was the meaning of
the cup-bearer's dream and what request did Joseph make of the cup-bearer?
Answer: Joseph prophesied that he would be restored to his former position and requested that he return the favor by helping Joseph to be released from his unjust imprisonment.
Please read Genesis 40:16-23: Joseph
Interprets the Dream of the Baker
40:16The chief baker, seeing that the interpretation had been favorable, said to Joseph, 'I too had a dream; there were three wicker trays on my head. 17In the top tray there were all kinds of pastries for Pharaoh, such as a baker might make, and the birds were eating them off the tray on my head.' 18Joseph replied as follows, 'This is what it means: the three trays are three days. 19In another three days Pharaoh will lift up your head by handing you on a gallows, and the birds will eat the flesh off your bones.' 20And so it happened; the third day was Pharaoh's birthday and he gave a banquet for all his officials. Of his officials he lifted up the head of the chief cup-bearer and the chief baker, 21the chief cup-bearer by restoring him to his cup-bearing, so that he again handed Pharaoh his cup; 20and by handing the chief baker, as Joseph had explained to them. 23But the chief cup-bearer did not remember Joseph; he had forgotten him.
Egyptian art depicts wicker trays with food or banquets being carried on the heads of servants. It was also a common practice for a Pharaoh to grant clemency to prisoners on his birth or anniversary of his enthronement.
Joseph's prophecy for the chief baker was not as promising as his prophecy for the cup-bearer. In three days Joseph's prophecies were fulfilled.
Question: What did you notice about the two dreams of
the Pharaoh's officials that were similar?
Answer: Each dream was associated with their official functions and each was associated with the number "three," which Joseph interpreted as "three days" = three grape branches and three trays.
In interpreting both dreams Joseph used the phrase "lift up your head" which is used as a pun. The Hebrew idiom can mean to be "released" or "to be called into the presence of a king," but in the literal sense it can also mean to have one's head lifted off one's body. The cup-bearer's immediate willingness to share his dream was evidence of his clear conscience while the baker's unwillingness to share his dream until he heard the cup-bearer's favorable interpretation and his failure to protect Pharaoh's food in his dream was an indication of his guilt.
Question: Why did the cup-bearer forget Joseph's good
service to him? What does this prefigure? See Exodus 1:8.
Answer: The cup-bearer's ingratitude in failing to "remember" Joseph is not a mental lapse but a moral lapse. It prefigured Egypt's ingratitude to Joseph when a future Pharaoh "forgets" Joseph and the service Joseph rendered to Egypt.
In the Bible narratives the people of the Old Testament suffered the consequences of their wicked acts. Jacob's sins in deceiving and manipulating Esau are matched by his sons' crimes and deceptions against him. Rebekah's preference for Jacob and her disloyalty to her husband coupled with Isaac's preference for Esau destroyed the unity of their family just as Jacob's preferential love for Joseph resulted in family disunity and an act of violence against Joseph, causing Jacob the most painful grief of his own sons' cruel deception. This should be a warning to us that in God's sovereign justice, then and now, there are consequences to be paid for acts of sin and injustice. It is not that a vengeful God visits suffering on people who descend into sinful lives, but it is the sin that separates the sinner from God's blessings and not only impacts the life of the sinner but the lives of those he/she professes to love. That God allows sin to take its course is always meant to call the sinner to repentance, to turn away from the destructive forces of sin and to turn back to Him. But to the righteous, no matter what trials and tragedies they face, God promises to always be with them just as he was with Joseph in the dungeon of the Pharaoh. It is in those times that we must cling to God's promises, as St. Paul noted in Romans 8:28: We are well aware that God works with those who love him, those who have been called in accordance with his purpose, and turns everything to their good. Just as God will turn Joseph's suffering into a personal victory and salvation for his entire family.
Questions for group discussion:
Question: Sibling rivalry can be a problem in many families. What strategies can parents use to diffuse sibling rivalry and to promote family love and unity? How might parents unknowingly contribute to the corrosive effects of sibling rivalry?
Question: Sibling rivalry can also be a problem in the Church family. This type of rivalry is often defined as "spiritual envy." How can one identify spiritual envy within the faith community and what can be done to counteract this destructive sin? What role can the priest play, as the spiritual father to the children of his parish, in preventing or addressing what may be an expression of "spiritual envy" present in a parishioner? Another expression of sibling rivalry within a parish occurs when a group within the parish believes they have certain entitlements or "ownership" over a parish. What harmful examples have you seen of this behavior and what is the remedy? What does it mean to be One Body in Christ?
Question: Onan's action in preventing Tamar's pregnancy in Genesis 38:9-10 was condemned by God. God gave mankind the gift of fertility through marital intimacy as man's first blessing (Gen 1:28). Ancient societies practiced birth control (including abortion) and infant sacrifice, all of which was condemned by the inspired writers of Sacred Scripture. What is the Church's teaching on birth control? Has the Church's teaching on birth control been consistent throughout salvation history? Why shouldn't the Church conform to modern society's views on procreation and birth control? Does every married couple have the "right" to give birth to a child? Is there any real difference between abortion and pagan child sacrifice, which was condemned by the inspired writers? In child sacrifice children were being offered to false gods as gifts to ensure the prosperity/ economic viability of the parents and to enhance their lifestyles, in other words, for reasons of self interest. How is abortion different? See CCC 2366-2379.
1. The inspired writer has purposely blanked on the name of the pagan god, just as he will blank on Moses' full Egyptian name which must have contained the name of an Egyptian god. In Egyptian, Moses' name was most likely the end of a theophoric name containing the name of a god" i.e. Ahmoses = "the god Ah is born"; Thutmoses = "the god Thoth is born"; Rameses = "the god Ra is born." It is from the Egyptian verb msy "to give birth," appearing as Mose with the name of a god. Instead of connecting the name of a false god with the great prophet, the inspired writer will connect Moses' name to the Hebrew word mase, meaning "to draw out." According to Egyptian documents it was common for the theophoric name using the suffix mose to be shortened to become the name Mose (Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 4, "Moses", page 911).
2. If Abraham came into Canaan in the year 2000 BC when he was 75 years old, then Isaac was born 25 years later when Abraham was 100 years old in the year 1975 BC. 60 years later, Jacob was born in 1915 BC. Isaac died when he was 180 years old in the year 1735 when Joseph was between the ages of 7 and 17, therefore, Joseph was sold into slavery sometime not earlier that 1735 and not later than 1725. The Hyksos, a Greek word for the Egyptian designation meaning "rulers from a foreign land," were foreign invaders who took control of Egypt in the 18th century BC. Very little is known about the Hyksos; none of their written records have survived. When the Egyptians were able to expel the Hyksos in the late 16th century BC they attempted to remove as much evidence as possible of Hyksos rule. Much of what we do know comes from the writings of foreign historians like Manetho and Flavius Josephus but there is also the 16th century BC account of the Theban prince Kamose who broke his treaty with the Hyksos and declared war. When he was killed in battle his younger brother Ahmose succeeded him and was successful in breaking the power of the Hyksos in Egypt. We do know that the Hyksos were described as "Asiatics" (a designation that could mean Semitic or Mediterranean European, possibly Minoan), that they introduced the horse and chariot into Egypt, and that their capital was the city of Avaris on the eastern most of the Nile Delta branches. Recent excavations at Avaris have yield beautiful frescoes similar to the art of the Minoan cultures of Crete and Thera, a large numbers of seals, and a few stone monuments. Scholars agree that the period of the Hyksos was the only period in which a foreigner like Joseph could rise to the position of the grand Vizier of Egypt. Fr. McKenzie writes: Most scholars agree that the Hyksos period is the most likely background for the story of Joseph and the settlement of the Israelites in Egypt. [..]. During no other period is it conceivable that the Israelites could have enjoyed the royal favor which is described in their tradition (Dictionary of the Bible, "Hyksos, page 380). The Hyksos were eventually expelled from Egypt by the princes of Thebes who became the Pharaoh's of the 18th Dynasty, finally defeating the Hyksos at the battle of Sharuhen in Canaan in 1580 BC (McKenzie, Dictionary of the Bible, "Hyksos," page 380; Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 3, "Hyksos," pages 341-46).
3. Ritual prostitution, both male and female, was practiced by several Canaanite cults like the cult of the goddess Astarte and the cult of Baal of Peor (see Num 25). God condemned such practices: There must be no sacred prostitute among the women of Israel, and no sacred prostitute among the men of Israel. You must not bring the wages of a prostitute or the earnings of a 'dog' (derogatory term for a male prostitute) to the house of Yahweh your God, whatever vow you may have made: both are detestable to Yahweh your God (Dt 23:18/17-19/18)
Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2009 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.
Catechism references 37:2-40:23 (*indicates Scripture is cited or paraphrased in the citation).
Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2009 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.