Chapters 37:1 to 40:23
Yosef (Joseph) and Egypt
Well, let’s move on from Esau and on to the story of Yosef, the eleventh son of Ya’akov and Rachel’s first-born son. Yosef (Joseph in English), whose name means ‘may Yahwey, God, add’, was Ya’akov’s favoured son. This led to some interesting interactions between the boy and his brothers. If you have a brother or sister whom one or both of your parents favoured over the others, how might you feel? What did Yosef do which stimulated his brothers’ hatred of him? As you read through Genesis 37, you may develop the impression Yosef was either incredibly naïve or arrogant. I’ll leave that decision to you; however, let’s read a couple of examples of his behaviour which riles his brothers.
In Genesis 37 we read, Once when he was with the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives, he brought a bad report about them to their father. (Genesis 37:2) and further on, Yosef had a dream which he told his brothers, and that made them hate him all the more. He said to them, “Listen while I tell you about this dream of mine. We were tying up bundles of wheat in the field when suddenly my bundle got up by itself and stood upright; then your bundles came, gathered around mine and prostrated themselves before it.” (Genesis 37:5-7) Then, to show Yosef how much he was favoured, Ya’akov made him a rainbow-coloured cloak. It appears there was much blame to pass around.
Here is how Yosef’s brothers reacted to their father favouring him, as we read in Genesis 37, “Yes, you will certainly be our king. You’ll do a great job of bossing us around!” And they hated him still more for his dreams and for what he said. (Genesis 37:8) and, following a second dream he shared with his brothers and parents, “What is this dream you have had? Do you really expect me, your mother and your brothers to come and prostrate ourselves before you on the ground?” His brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind. (Genesis 37:10,11)
Yosef meets his Brothers’ Wrath
Finally, the brothers could take no more of their anger and decided to kill Yosef, their hatred had grown so deep. Reuven, Ya’akov’s first son and, therefore the leader of the brothers, ordered Yosef not to be killed but to be thrown into a dry cistern. He was obviously a commanding figure, as we read, But when Re’uven heard this, he saved him from being destroyed by them. He said, “We shouldn’t take his life. 22 Don’t shed blood,” Re’uven added. “Throw him into this cistern here in the wilds, but don’t lay hands on him yourselves.” He intended to rescue him from them later and restore him to his father. (Genesis 37:21,22)
Yosef’s innocence and naivete brought him into conflict with his brothers and prepared the way for his being used by Adonai.
Here is where Adonai Elohim threw a twist into their plans. At the point they had seized Yosef and had thrown him into a nearby dry cistern, a caravan of Yishma‘elim , Ishmaelites (Descendants of Yishma’el,
the son of Avraham through Hagar) came by and bought Yosef from his brothers. In order to cover their tracks and avoid accountability for their actions, they concocted a really wild story. We find this contained in Genesis 37: They took Yosef’s robe, killed a male goat and dipped the robe in the blood. Then they sent the long-sleeved robe and brought it to their father, saying, “We found this. Do you know if it’s your son’s robe or not?” He recognized it and cried, “It’s my son’s robe! Some wild animal has torn Yosef in pieces and eaten him!” (Genesis 37:31-33) I find it difficult to understand how Adonai Elohim could use such evil for His good but, thankfully, I do not have the mind of God.
In the meantime, Y’hudah (Judah) moved away from his father’s land and started his own family, in the land of Adullam, one of the major Canaanite tribes. The remains of the city may be seen today, overlooking the Elah Valley, where the teenage David defeated Goliath. Perhaps Y’hudah wanted to put some distance between himself and the conspiracy to murder his brother or he wanted to be independent of his father’s dominance. We may never know in this life, as Scripture fails to provide a reason. However, this is an important chapter in the story of Adonai’s people.
Tamar, the Great-Grandmother of Adonai Yeshua
The more I read the Hebrew Scriptures, the more fascinated I become of the humanity of our Patriarchs. In Chapter 38, we develop an insight into how sin has grabbed the ancestor of Adonai Yeshua. Y’hudah essentially took a concubine, Shua, ‘pit’ and through her had three sons. When his firstborn, Er, was old enough, Y’hudah picked Tamar, palm tree, to be his wife; however, Er was an evil man and died young, leaving Tamar a young widow, without children. The custom of the day called for the closest brother of the deceased husband to take his widow and produce male heirs, to preserve the family line. Er’s closest brother was Onan, strong; to him fell the responsibility of taking Tamar as his wife. Onan, realizing any child which would come from their union would not be his, was rebellious and did not follow the tradition of his people. As a result, he too died young.
This left Tamar a childless widow, one of the classes of people without protection in the community. Y’hudah promised Tamar his son Shelah, she knows, when he became of age. However, Y’hudah forgot his promise and Tamar, becoming older, needed to do something or reach the age when she could no longer conceive.
Being a clever person, Tamar hatched a plan which would see her bearing a child and, therefore, receiving protection and financial security. Dressing as a prostitute, with a veil to hide her identity, Tamar approached Y’hudah, who asked to sleep with her. The price for his having sexual relations with her was to be a young goat from his herd. As part of the bargain of payment, Tamar demanded Y’hudah give her his seal, its cord and the staff he was carrying, until the kid arrived. These were very important items for the leader of a tribe. However, when Y’hudah brought the kid to Tamar, she was nowhere to be found.
The result of union of Y’hudah and Tamar’s union was her pregnancy. When Tamar began to show, the tribal members accused her of prostitution, as she was without a husband, and told Y’hudah, the tribal leader, of her indiscretion. Following Hebrew tradition at the time, Y’hudah ordered Tamar to be burned alive, as she had brought dishonour upon the family. As she was brought out to Y’hudah and the tribe to receive her punishment, Tamar produced the articles she had received from her father-in-law. Upon seeing them, Y’hudah realized his sin of breaking his covenant with Tamar, asked for her forgiveness and acknowledged her place in the family, as she was now carrying his child.
Adonai Yeshua, the Lord Jesus, came through the union of Tamar and Y’hudah – Adonai works in mysterious ways
Why was this chapter included in the Hebrew Scriptures? As I mentioned early into this work, God’s instructions for our life come in the form of stories designed to help us understand the direction He desires of us. One of Adonai’s instructions focuses on keeping promises.
Y’hudah promised Tamar she would marry his son, Shemar; however, when his son came of age, he forgot his promise to Tamar. This left Tamar defenceless and vulnerable in a harsh environment. An unclaimed widow received little or no support from families or communities and often had to rely on begging for livelihood. Thus, Tamar’s plan was designed to force Y’hudah to keep his earlier promise to her. Did her plan have the approval of Adonai? It worked, didn’t it?
Yosef in Prison
But our story only becomes more intriguing. Returning to the young Josef, we find him in Egypt, having been sold to the captain of the Palace Guard, Potiphar. Yosef was tasked with looking after his master’s house, much like the butler in a modern-day estate. You may read of his duties in Genesis 39. Yosef became quite wealthy, as Potiphar’s slave. How was this possible? Adonai was pleased with Yosef; He allowed him to become Potiphar’s attendant, bringing him opportunities to gain land and financial gain. However, there was a problem in Potiphar’s house – his wife.
Potiphar’s wife, unnamed in Scripture, appears to have been a lonely woman, rich and idle without children; there is also the possibility she didn’t love her husband. Yosef brought excitement and challenge into her life. Several times she invited Yosef to her bed but he refused. Read his reasons for refusing in Genesis 39:8,9: Look, because my master has me, he doesn’t know what’s going on in this house. He has put all his possessions in my charge. In this house I am his equal; he hasn’t withheld anything from me except yourself, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God! As her frustration grew so did her scheming. We read of the outcome of her conniving in Genesis 39:11-19 – However, one day, when he went into the house to do his work, and none of the men living in the house was there indoors, she grabbed him by his robe and said, “Sleep with me!” But he fled, leaving his robe in her hand, and got himself outside. When she saw that he had left his robe in her hand and had escaped, she called the men of her house and said to them, “Look at this! My husband brought in a Hebrew to make fools of us. He came in and wanted to sleep with me, but I yelled out loudly. When he heard me yelling like that, he left his robe with me and ran out.” She put the robe aside until his master came home. Then she said to him, “This Hebrew slave you brought us came in to make a fool of me. But when I yelled out, he left his robe with me and fled outside.” When his master heard what his wife said as she showed him, “Here’s what your slave did to me. Unfortunately, Potiphar, who obviously loved his wife, believed her story and had Yosef thrown into prison. In those days, slaves didn’t receive trials when accused of crimes against their masters. Now here is where the story of Yosef really becomes interesting.
Adonai’s favour continued with Yosef while he was in prison. The warden appointed Yosef as the prison supervisor, giving him absolute control of the prisoners. Perhaps for the first time, the prison functioned well and prisoners were treated fairly. In any event, Yosef prospered, as far as he could in prison. It is estimated Yosef stayed in Pharaoh’s prison for twelve years, until the age of thirty. A few years after being sentenced, two of pharaoh’s attendants, the baker and the chief cupbearer, ran into trouble with pharaoh. Both were sent to prison, where each had a dream. They shared these with Yosef; listen to how approached them, as we read in Genesis 40:8-19, Yosef said to them, “Don’t interpretations belong to God? Tell it to me, please.” Then the chief cupbearer told Yosef his dream: “In my dream, there in front of me was a vine, and the vine had three branches. The branches budded, then it suddenly began to blossom, and finally clusters of ripe grapes appeared. Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand, so I took the grapes and pressed them into Pharaoh’s cup, and gave the cup to Pharaoh.” Yosef said to him, “Here is its interpretation: the three branches are three days. Within three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your office: you will be giving Pharaoh his cup as you used to when you were his cupbearer. But remember me when it goes well with you; and show me kindness, please; and mention me to Pharaoh, so that he will release me from this prison. For the truth is that I was kidnapped from the land of the Hebrews, and here too I have done nothing wrong that would justify putting me in this dungeon.” When the chief baker saw that the interpretation was favorable, he said to Yosef, “I too saw in my dream: there were three baskets of white bread on my head. In the uppermost basket there were all kinds of baked goods for Pharaoh, but the birds ate them out of the basket on my head.” Yosef answered, “Here is its interpretation: the three baskets are three days. Within three days Pharaoh will lift up your head from off of you — he will hang you on a tree, and the birds will eat your flesh off you.”