Lessons from Joseph (Gen 37)
The account of Joseph’s life is the story about how a family became a nation. The lesson: any time the family ‘fights’ is a loss for the nation of Israel. Jealousy and favoritism have dire consequences.
There are many ‘doublets’:
-Joseph has 2 dreams.
-Joseph is flung into a pit, and later is flung into prison
-The brothers make 2 trips to Egypt
-The youngest brother is at risk (first Joseph, then Benjamin)
-Two coats cause trouble (first the coat of many colors, then the coat Potiphar’s wife grabs to ‘prove’ Joseph’s guilt)
-The merchants Joseph was sold to had similar items to what the brothers brought to buy food with
-The 2 dreams of the baker and the cupbearer
-Joseph has 2 sons
-Joseph is younger and is put over his older brothers; Jacob puts Joseph’s younger son over the older when he blesses them
-Joseph is given new clothes in jail, and then when he is to be brought before Pharaoh
-Jacob being deceived by his sons/ Jacob deceiving his father
-Joseph is a Christ-like figure who is ‘sacrificed’ into slavery to save the family, Judah’s story, which interrupt Joseph’s tells of Judah having only one son left, whom he does not wish to risk sacrificing for the sake of his family line by having him marry Tamar, whose marriage to the elder two sons resulted in their death (remember superstition is strong in this culture). Judah later offers to lay down his life to save Benjamin’s, showing he has changed.
-Tamar uses the same phrase ‘please examine’ when showing Judah the objects he left with her as the brothers use when showing Jacob Joseph’s bloody cloak
-Brothers killing brothers is reminiscent of Cain and Abel
-Adam is put in charge of the Garden of Eden except for one tree, which he may not eat of. He failed the test. Joseph is put in charge of all of Pharaoh’s household, except his food (and of course his wife). Joseph passes his ‘test’ and is put in charge of all the food in Egypt.
-Joseph is put in charge, dressed in splendor and led around the city with a herald telling people he is to be honored, same as Mordecai in the book of Esther.
The same phrase used to describe Joseph being ‘flung’ into the well is used to describe Hagar flinging (or ‘left’ in some translations) (Gen 21: 15) Ishmael under a bush when she believes they are to die, perhaps indicating that Hagar blames Ishmael for her current situation (which is somewhat his fault as he was the one making fun of Isaac at his weaning party, triggering Sarah’s wrath… Gen 21: 9-10)
A few lessons/ application/ things to think about:
The brothers eat while Joseph is in the cistern. They fellowship while one of their own is hurting… (Oh the sermons write themselves here!)
God is with us regardless of our status: He is with Joseph when he is a slave, a prisoner, and when he is second in command of a country.
God is with us regardless of where we are. He is with Jacob while he is traveling in the wilderness (stairway to heaven), with Joseph in Egypt etc.
Irony: Joseph is trusted with everything in Potiphar’s house EXCEPT his food; Joseph is later put in charge of all the food in Egypt.
Why does the cup bearer not immediately tell Pharaoh about Joseph? In Egypt there are people trained in ‘houses of light’ to interpret dreams etc. The cup bearer is already on shaky ground as he was put into jail due to questions concerning his loyalty. To recommend a Hebrew slave to pharaoh would be to say that a non-Egyptian may be better than an Egyptian, something that may be seen as disloyal/ treasonous. It is not until the Pharaoh is desperate, and those trained in Egypt have failed that the cup bearer is brave enough to speak.
Joseph’s Family: His wife is a priestess of On. It is likely she is given to Joseph by Pharaoh in the hope that their children will be even more powerful in dream interpretation etc. It is normal for this culture to have more than one god, and a wife would be primarily loyal to her husband’s god, so his wife’s conversion into Joseph’s faith is not unusual. Her giving up her other gods is. There are many non-Jewish wives in the Bible. (Moses’ wife, Ruth, Rahab, Bathsheba, Tamar) These are women who converted to Judaism. Marrying a convert is Biblically okay.
Their sons’ names:
Manasseh: God has made me forget the past. (Notice that Joseph does not actually ‘forget’ his past, or his brothers would have had an easier time when they arrived. Instead he is saying that the past hurts are behind him and are not currently a factor in his present life. He is relieved of the burden of his past memories.)
Ephraim: God has made me fertile. This can refer to both having a second son, and to the prosperity God has blessed him with.
Joseph in Jail: Potiphar likely doubts his wife’s account of what Joseph may or may not have done. If a man as highly ranked as Potiphar believed that a non-Egyptian slave had attempted to rape his wife, that man would be dead. Likely Joseph is in Pharaoh’s prison to protect him from the wife, and any further punishment, as well as to protect his wife’s reputation. Potiphar cannot fail to punish Joseph or his standing in the community will suffer, but it is likely he understands the failings of the woman he married.
Joseph’s dealings with his brothers: While Joseph names his oldest son ‘one who makes me forget the past,’ when he is faced with his brothers he does not immediately trust them. Instead he puts them through multiple tests over the course of a significant period of time. (Remember, they go back home and do not return until the food they were given has run out.) It is clear from Joseph’s weeping that he desperately wishes to be reconciled with his family, but he does not rush into the reunion filled with hope until he is sure that they have changed and a non-abusive relationship has a chance to be formed. (Remember, they were going to kill him/ leave him to die, and then they did sell him into slavery. They then lied to their father, eliminating all hope that their father would find and rescue him. This is an abusive relationship!) After the first encounter Joseph could have followed them home and revealed himself earlier. In relationships that are this strained it is important to be sure before reestablishing a connection with those who abused you.
Judah and Tamar: Judah too leaves the family and returns. During this time he has a family of his own. His oldest son marries Tamar, then dies without having a son. As is the custom (Levirate marriage) Tamar is married to his next oldest son, in order to produce a boy who will inherit the oldest, now deceased, son’s inheritance. The second son spills his seed on the floor rather than risking getting Tamar pregnant. Why? First, he pretends to sleep with her because the marriage custom of the time likely has them in a tent with the wedding party just outside ‘witnessing’ the consummation. While he consummates the marriage in part, he makes sure there is no chance of actual conception. God ends his life over this deception, showing us how much God cares for women. At this time, without a son, Tamar would be an outcast, reliant on charity in her old age, assuming she lived longer than her husband. Further, a man is not able to divorce a levirate wife, but must care for her and her son in his brother’s stead. The inheritance of the older brother will be cared for by the younger brother until the son is old enough to care for it himself. This places an additional burden on the second son, without reward, as that portion of the family land will soon not be his to control. The second son therefore has more responsibility for a short period of time (his brother’s land and wife), but less inheritance in the end if the widow conceives. This system keeps large portions of land from amassing under one person’s rule if there is a plague or famine, as well as ensures that women are taken care of despite being widowed. The second son is thinking of himself alone. He is greedy and does not care if Tamar suffers. A good father does not mind sacrificing for his son (even though technically this child would be considered his brother’s son…). The child however would eventually become a co-heir, an equal, to the father, which lesser men like this son also have difficulty handling….