January 24, 2015
Scripture and Commentary, January 26-31
Gen. 37, Mt. 16
Gen. 39, 1 Cor. 7
In spite of all the sin and strife caused by polygyny, Jacob’s one true love is Rachel. She dies in childbirth near Bethlehem, and her firstborn, Joseph becomes Jacob’s favoured son. He also becomes the new central figure in the Genesis narrative.
Joseph’s dreams have one clear meaning; his brothers, and, even his father, will serve him (Gen. 37:10). This dream will be literally fulfilled when Joseph rules Egypt and gives his family sanctuary during a severe famine. The image of stars representing people is also found in Revelation 6:12 and 13. The brothers decide to kill Joseph, but Judah persuades them to sell him to the Ishmaelites instead. Descendants of Joseph’s uncle, Ishmael, they have no more mercy on Joseph than his brothers have. They take him to Egypt and sell him into slavery. Meanwhile, Jacob sinks into grief. Nor is he willing to take comfort in his remaining sons and daughters. Instead he resolves to go down into the grave unto his son (37:35)
Here is a sordid account of the grievous sin into which the children and grand children of Jacob fall. If there is a lesson to be gleaned from this chapter it must be the ease with which it is possible to fall into sin. These people are the seed of Abraham. They are the chosen people, the Old Testament Church. Yet their sin is as terrible and despicable as that of the Godless tribes of Canaan. If not for the patience and grace of God, they, too, would be cast away from God.
But God perseveres, and this is the real story in Genesis. Israel as a nation, and the individual people who make up that nation, are neither chosen nor kept in God because of their goodness. They are chosen and kept by grace alone. He chooses and keeps them for His own purpose; to bring the Saviour into the world, by whom sin can be forgiven and sinners reconciled to God.
Even Joseph is not a tower of virtue. He seems to delight in telling his dreams to his brothers and father, boasting about his future rule over them. He appears to relish his coat of many colours, a sign of his favoured position with his father. In short, he is prideful and cruel. It is only by grace that God is with him in Egypt. He causes all that Joseph does to prosper so that his new master puts him in charge of all that he has. Unfortunately, or so it seems, Potiphar’s wife attempts to seduce Joseph, who refuses. Angry, she tells her husband it was Joseph who seduced her, presenting his garment as evidence. The result of this is that Joseph is cast into prison. This probably means he is put to slave labour in the hardest and most dangerous jobs in Egypt. “But the Lord was with Joseph” (39: 21) and the chapter ends with Joseph in charge of the prison.
Gen. 40, Mt. 17
Gen.41:1-36, 1 Cor. 8
It now seems unlikely to Joseph that he will ever receive homage from his brethren and father. Nearly three hundred miles of desert, and the walls of an Egyptian prison separate him from his family. Joseph probably thinks he will never leave the prison, and never see them again. Like anyone else in apparently hopeless situations, he probably battles deep, deep anger and despair, constantly reliving the unfair events that brought him to this place. But God is ready to move Joseph, and his brethren, one step further toward moving Abraham’s descendants to Egypt for four hundred years. He accomplishes this by giving prophetic dreams to people, and giving Joseph the ability to tell them what their dreams mean.
The chief butler and chief baker are first. Joseph gives the butler the happy news that his dream means he will be freed and restored to Pharaoh’s favour in three days. To the baker he gives the sad news that he will be executed in three days. It happens just a Joseph says.
The Pharaoh has two dreams. In the first, seven starving cattle devour seven “fatfleshed” ones. In the second, seven “lean” ears of corn devour seven full and good ears. “Corn” in American use refers to a unique grain originally grown by the American Indians. In Great Britain during the reign of James I, it refers to all grain crops. The “corn” in Pharaoh’s dream is probably wheat. The seven ears, what we would call “heads” signify great abundance, seven times the normal harvest.
The pharaoh knows his dreams are significant, but none of the Egyptian priest can understand or interpret them to him. Now the butler remembers Joseph, whom he has conveniently “forgotten” all of this time. He tells Pharaoh about Joseph’s ability to interpret his own dream in prison. Pharaoh immediately orders Joseph brought to him.
Joseph says, “God hath showed Pharaoh what He is about to do.” The seven good cows and the seven good ears represent seven years of abundant crops. They will be followed by seven years of insufficient or non-existent harvests. Therefore, Pharaoh should store grain during the seven good years, so his people will have food during the lean years.
Gen. 41:37- 57 , Mt. 18:1-20
Gen. 42:1-24, 1 Cor. 9
Pharaoh sees the truth of Joseph’s words, and sets him over the task of gathering and storing grain. The good years come and go, and the lean years begin, causing terrible famine in the eastern Mediterranean Sea basin. People from Europe, northern Africa, Canaan, and northern Mesopotamia, afflicted by the famine, flock to Egypt. Some come as beggars, some as traders, some as invaders to steal the grain. Parts of eastern Egypt fall to invaders, some of whom come from Canaan.
Meanwhile, Joseph is becoming Egyptianised. With no Bible, and no fellowship with the people of God, the stories of Creation, the Fall and Flood, and the call of Abraham and his seed, are nearly forgotten, and Joseph is quickly enfolded into Egyptian culture. He even marries the daughter of a high ranking Egyptian priest.
Jacob and his sons are also afflicted by the famine. He sends ten of his sons to Egypt. Benjamin, second son of Rachel, is the new favoured son, and Jacob keeps him in Canaan.
Once in Egypt, the brothers come face to face with Joseph. He recognises them, but they do not recognise him, for he looks like an Egyptian, and even speaks the Egyptian language. In verse 7, “Joseph’s brethren came and bowed down themselves before him with their faces to the earth.” Remember his dream in chapter 37? Here is the beginning of its literal fulfillment. But it will not be completely fulfilled until Benjamin and Jacob also come before him.
Joseph’s treatment of his brothers may be due to mixed motive. He may be exacting a little revenge. He may be trying to see if they are still motivated by anger and jealousy. He may simply still be formulating his plans about how to deal with them. Whatever his reasons, his treatment of them seems to have as its goal to bring the rest of his father’s family to Egypt, where they can live in peace and prosperity.
Gen. 42:25-38, Mt. 18:21-34
Gen. 43:1-14, 1 Cor. 10
Joseph probably has no idea that Egypt is the land in which the seed (descendants) of Abraham will dwell as strangers and slaves (Gen 15:13). Nor does he realise he will play a key role in bringing Abraham’s descendants into the land of servitude, where they will serve for four hundred years. Joseph is also not interested in returning to Canaan, the Promised Land. He likes Egypt, and plans to stay in this land of prosperity and culture and military power. He has become rich and powerful in Egypt, and has no intention of giving all that up to herd sheep in the middle of nowhere. It is amazing how much the Hebrew people long to own Canaan, yet how easily they forsake it for easier living in other countries. Lot, Naomi, and Esther are examples of this. Even Nehemiah, prior to learning of the distress and need in Jerusalem, was content to serve a Gentile king in Sushan rather than face the trials and dangers of Jerusalem. Joseph, too, wished to remain in a foreign land, so he plots to bring his family to Egypt. He may envision them all becoming Egyptians and dwelling there forever. The sons of Jacob think all of this is happening as God’s punishment for their treatment of Joseph. Thus, years after their crime, they are still afflicted with grief and guilt.
Jacob is unwilling to let Benjamin go, which also means he is willing to leave Simeon in prison in Egypt. He probably believes Simeon is dead already (42:36). But the continuing wheat famine forces him to seek food again, and Egypt is the only source he knows of. He decides to send his sons, including Benjamin, to Egypt.
This time he sends gifts to the ruler in Egypt. From the fruits and spices we may conclude that the famine is due to a form of wheat blight, rather than drought, for other crops, though not plentiful enough to sustain the population, appear to be producing fruit. Bread is the foundation of the near eastern diet in Jacob’s time, so a wheat blight would cause widespread crop failures, and the resulting famine.
Jacob’s sinfulness and ignorance of God are evident throughout the narrative. Yet his faith is evident also. He is putting everything he has in God’s hand. His legacy, his hope for the future, his sons, and, through them, their wives and children are going to Egypt with these men. Abraham had to trust God with one son (Gen. 22:1-13), but Jacob thinks he is being asked to sacrifice them all. If, by God’s grace, they reach Egypt safely, will this grain master deal honestly with them, or will he kill or enslave them as he did Simeon? All of this is plaintively expressed in his words, “If I be bereaved of my children, I am bereaved.” He seems to mean, if I lose my children, I lose everything.
Gen. 43:15- 34 , Mt. 19
Gen. 44:1-13, 1 Cor. 11
Joseph seems to have believed Jacob would come to Egypt to get Simeon. He receives his brothers warmly, but does not reveal his identity yet. We naturally think this reunion would be a good time for Joseph to be honest with his brothers. But he bides his time, planning yet another trick for them.
The trickery in this passage seems to suggests that Joseph’s motives were not entirely pure. In fact, he seems to enjoy causing fear and sorrow for his brothers, though some commentaries believe he is testing his brothers’ trustworthiness. Either way, Joseph’s cup seems to be a special mark of his eminence. Stealing it would be an intense personal offense and a terrible breach of etiquette. Joseph has it planted in Benjamin’s grain to “frame” him for theft. When his soldiers catch the Hebrews, the sons of Jacob are so sure of the complete innocence of every brother, they agree that, if the cup is found among them, the one possessing it will be killed. They are horrified and terrified when the cup is found… in Benjamin’s sack.
Gen. 44:14-34 , Mt. 20:1-16
Gen. 45:1-15 , 1 Cor. 12
Judah is the third son of Leah. He is a willing conspirator in the plot against Joseph, but that is merely the beginning of his sorrows. Like Esau, he marries a Canaanite woman. Their sons are so wicked God slays them (Gen. 38:7 and 10). After their deaths, not reconising his daughter in law, Tamar, and believing her to be a harlot, he lies with her, and she conceives (Gen. 38:18). Learning his widowed daughter in law is pregnant, he is incensed with anger and vows to burn her alive. But she shows him the ring and bracelets he gave to the “harlot,” thus, showing that he is as guilty as she. In her defense, she probably wants a child to secure her safety and security now that she is a widow. Her motive is survival. Judah’s motive is lust.
The event seems to be a turning point for Judah, and the ensuing years have a softening effect on him. As he stands before Joseph, hate and anger seem to be replaced with kindness and compassion. He is more concerned about the well being of his father, Jacob, than for his own. He once sold his brother into slavery because he was angry at his father. Now he offers his own life for his father’s happiness. What a wonderful change of heart, proof that the grace of God continues to work in the life of this very unworthy man and family.
Whether content that his brothers have suffered enough, satisfied that they have passed the test, or simply moved at Judah’s concern for his father, Joseph now reveals his true identity. Joseph also understands that God has been working in all of these events and circumstances. It was not really his brothers who sent him to Egypt. “God did send me before you to preserve life” (verse. 5). Asian, African, European, and Hebrew life has been preserved because God sent Joseph to Egypt and gave him knowledge of the coming famine and wisdom to prepare for it.
Joseph, too, is a changed man. The pit, slavery, and prison must have made deep and painful spiritual/emotional wounds in his soul. Yet there is no hint of anger or hatred in his words. He holds forth only welcome and peace and full forgiveness. Perhaps there is a hint of penance here also, for Joseph had pridefully worn the coat of many colours and the favoured son position. He had earned the anger of his brothers, though their actions were wretchedly despicable. For years the brothers had struggled with their feelings of guilt and anger. For years Joseph dealt with anger over their actions, and happiness in his position in Egypt. Here that is all over. Here he makes peace.
The other brothers also make peace. All is forgiven. The past is put behind them. Now they walk together as brothers should. Finally we see a little Godliness in the people of God.