The Pentateuch: Joseph in Egypt, Genesis 37-40
Israel had settled and grown his family and favored his son Joseph, the firstborn son of Israel’s beloved and favorite wife. He favored him so much that his other sons became bitter, hateful, and malicious. They envied and despised their little brother who was shown such incredible favor by their father. They were absolutely responsible for their own choices, but this is a great example of the dangers of showing favoritism as a parent.
Joseph had a dream
Young, favored, beloved by-dad Joseph had a dream and felt inclined to share it with his family. This was not just any dream – it was a prophetic dream given to him by God Himself indicating that he would eventually be a mighty ruler and that his family would bow down to him. He didn’t just share his dream, he flaunted it.
5 Now Joseph had a dream, and he told it to his brothers; and they hated him even more. 6 So he said to them, “Please hear this dream which I have dreamed: 7 There we were, binding sheaves in the field. Then behold, my sheaf arose and also stood upright; and indeed your sheaves stood all around and bowed down to my sheaf.”
8 And his brothers said to him, “Shall you indeed reign over us? Or shall you indeed have dominion over us?” So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words.
9 Then he dreamed still another dream and told it to his brothers, and said, “Look, I have dreamed another dream. And this time, the sun, the moon, and the eleven stars bowed down to me.”
10 So he told it to his father and his brothers; and his father rebuked him and said to him, “What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall your mother and I and your brothers indeed come to bow down to the earth before you?” 11 And his brothers envied him, but his father kept the matter in mind.
When we read “Joseph had a dream” it is more literally translated that he was rooted to a dream and bound firmly to it. In this culture, dreams were significant. Dreams from the Lord are spiritual experiences where He can deeply root a message in our hearts that will not leave or be forgotten. A mere dream should always be deciphered between a dream sent by the Lord as a message of some kind. They are not one and the same.
Israel recognized this dream as being from the Lord and, although he was clearly offended by the idea of his 11th son ruling over his brothers and his own parents, he kept it in mind anyway. His brothers responded with deepened jealousy, and his father was insulted but kept the dream in mind. No one could have guessed what it would truly mean, and how it would come about.
Joseph is sold by his brothers
Like Joseph, we can oftentimes prematurely announce something God has laid on our hearts. We may know God is calling us to something, but we must leave it to the Lord to determine the when and the how of sharing these things. Joseph lacked tact, and with this, he ignited more bitterness and hatred toward himself from his brothers.
When the older brothers were tending the sheep, Israel sent Joseph after them to report on them – in other words, to spy on his brothers who hated him. Joseph followed them from Haron to Dothan and was spotted by the brothers before he made it all the way to them. In their jealous rage toward Joseph, the brothers wanted to kill him – and surely would have if Rueben had not spoken up against spilling their brother’s blood. So, they decided to sell him.
There were merchants traveling through Dothan, Ishmaelites and Midianites, both tribes were actually relatives of theirs. Israel, their father, is the grandson of Abraham, while the Ishmaelites are descendants of Abraham’s son Ishmael, and the Midianites and Medians are descendants of Abraham’s children by Keturah, his wife after Sarah. These other tribes, though, are historically not on good terms with the descendants of Isaac, the son of the promise. So the fact the brothers were selling him to tribes that were essentially at conflict with their own people is a sign of the evil in their hearts.
25 And they sat down to eat a meal. Then they lifted their eyes and looked, and there was a company of Ishmaelites, coming from Gilead with their camels, bearing spices, balm, and myrrh, on their way to carry them down to Egypt. 26 So Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is there if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? 27 Come and let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother and our flesh.” And his brothers listened. 28 Then Midianite traders passed by; so the brothers pulled Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt.
Judah and Tamar
So, the brothers trapped Joseph in a pit and sold him to Midianite traders on their way to Egypt, where he was then sold off to Potiphar, the captain of Pharoh’s guard. Joseph had now been sold into slavery by his own brothers, who then deceived their father into believing Joseph was dead, devoured, and ripped apart. The only brother to attempt to protect Joseph was Rueben.
31 So they took Joseph’s tunic, killed a kid of the goats, and dipped the tunic in the blood. 32 Then they sent the tunic of many colors, and they brought it to their father and said, “We have found this. Do you know whether it is your son’s tunic or not?”
33 And he recognized it and said, “It is my son’s tunic. A wild beast has devoured him. Without doubt Joseph is torn to pieces.” 34 Then Jacob tore his clothes, put sackcloth on his waist, and mourned for his son many days. 35 And all his sons and all his daughters arose to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted, and he said, “For I shall go down into the grave to my son in mourning.” Thus his father wept for him.
When Israel finds out his son is lost to him, thinking him dead, he grieves so deeply he will not allow himself to be comforted. This is what I can’t help but imagine God feeling for people who go astray, those who are in slavery to their sin, who are lost to Him.
Later, Judah finds a wife for his eldest son, Er, who turns out to be so evil the Lord kills him as judgment for his wickedness. His wife, Tamar, is left without children, and per tradition his brother is supposed to marry her and their first child is for the brother who is dead so that his line will continue. Onan marries Tamar, but shows such contempt for the sacredness of marriage that God also puts him to death as judgment for his wickedness. Two wicked sons in the grave, Judah sends his daughter-in-law back to her father because his youngest son is not old enough to marry.
Judah’s wife later passes away and Judah, whose line Jesus Himself will come from, later finds himself in sleeping with a woman he believes is a harlot. This word for harlot, and in some translations “prostitute”, actually means a “cult prostitute”. So, Judah of the kingly line and the line of the Lord Himself, not only commits sexual immorality, but also idolatry. He pledged to bring her a young goat as payment, and left his signet ring, cord, and staff as colatteral.
Later, it is discovered Tamar, his daughter-in-law whom he promised to marry to his youngest son but failed to do, was pregnant. He is furious – until it is revealed that he is the father. She had kept the signet ring, cord, and staff which were items that would identify the owner of them so there was no doubt. Judah had been tricked into honoring the tradition himself because he failed to give Tamar to his youngest son as a wife as promised. Tamar would later have twins, Perez and Zerah.
This is another case where the younger son is shown favor by the Lord. Zerah had begun coming first, but Perez took his place and was delivered first instead. Perez, one of the sons of Tamar by Judah, her adulterous and idolatrous father-in-law with sons so evil they were put to death by the Lord for their wickedness.
Joseph in Egypt
While his family was back home in Hebron, Joseph in Egypt had been watched over by the Lord. He was now serving in Potiphar’s household, and the Lord was so obviously with him that Potiphar put his whole household in Joseph’s care with the only exception being his food. It was likely that the cultural divide made the idea of a Hebrew man taking care of an Egyptian’s food detestable. Joseph was highly esteemed and his favor with God was well known.
Joseph, the favored son of Israel, had been sold into slavery at 17 years old by his brothers, and still he held onto his faith in the Lord. Even through these circumstances he trusted God, clung to Him, praised Him, and gave Him glory.
Then, along came Potiphar’s wife. She lusted after him, attempting to entice him to her bed, yet there still Joseph remained faithful to God, and refused to sin against his master as well. Unfortunately, she was displeased with his denial and accused him of exactly what she had done to him. This resulted in Joseph going to prison and losing his position in Potiphar’s household.
20 Then Joseph’s master took him and put him into the prison, a place where the king’s prisoners were confined. And he was there in the prison. 21 But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him mercy, and He gave[a] him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison. 22 And the keeper of the prison committed to Joseph’s hand all the prisoners who were in the prison; whatever they did there, it was his doing. 23 The keeper of the prison did not look into anything that was under [b]Joseph’s authority, because the Lord was with him; and whatever he did, the Lord made it prosper.
God still showed Joseph favor. Joseph could have been put to death for this accusation, but instead he was put in prison, and the guard put Joseph in charge of the other prisoners. Joseph continued to prosper and was clearly blessed by God to all around him, and He remained faithful even in prison for crimes he did not commit. He never compromised his faith, and remained committed to the Lord. He had a plethora of reasons to be angry, or at least plenty of reasons you and I would be likely to react differently, but Joseph kept on praising anyway.
God is good, even when circumstances are not
So many times in this story we see examples of how God takes evil and uses it to fulfill His divine purposes. He cared for Tamar and one of her children was in the direct lineage of the Messiah. He was with Joseph through every struggle and battle, through entrapment, enslavement, temptation, imprisonment, and leadership.
God is the God of the highs and the lows, and takes what is meant for evil in this world and uses it for the good of those who love Him. Judah committed evil, yet the line that would bring the Messiah into the world was born through it. Joseph was whipped around through all kinds of trials and sufferings, yet the Lord never left him and made everything he did successful, eventually saving Egypt and plenty of other nations during the years of famine. God was with Joseph even when it seemed like the plans He’d revealed to Joseph were forgotten. God is good, even when circumstances are not.
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