Genesis 37 - 38
JOSEPH BEN YAAKOV -
PRINCE OF EGYPT AND SAVIOUR OF ISRAEL
The story of Joseph’s life must have been originally written
down by the sons of Jacob, especially by Joseph himself. This is probably
indicated by the reference in Exodus 1:1, terminating this account, to the
"names of the children of Israel, which came into Egypt." This
is essentially equivalent to the standard formula which would have said: "Now
these are the generations of the children of Israel, which came into Egypt."
This section, however, probably more than those preceding, had been subject to
Moses’ editorial emendations, in view of his more immediate connection to it.
Hence the standard formula was slightly modified to indicate that this
particular record was not as directly received and transmitted by him as had
been those of the patriarchs earlier than Joseph and his brothers.
JOSEPH’S DREAM #1 (THE SHEAVES)
This, we believe, constitutes the concluding statement and the
signature of Jacob’s long record, beginning with Genesis 25:19b. Although he
had trusted for years in God’s promise that he would inherit the land, the
same as God had promised Abraham and Isaac, he, like they, continued to live as
a "foreigner" in the land of Canaan. "By faith
[Abraham] sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in
tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise……….These
all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar
off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were
strangers and pilgrims on the earth" (Hebrews 11:9,13).
BEING SEVENTEEN YEARS OLD
Here we begin the actual story of Joseph. Though he was a
great man, Joseph hardly attained the spiritual stature of Abraham, Isaac, and
Jacob. God never actually appeared to him, as He had to them, nor were the
covenant promises given to him in any special way. If fact, of the sons of Jacob
it was Judah, not he, through whom God would fulfill the coming of the Savior in
times to come. His personal character, while morally pure, was marred by
spiritual pride to a degree which his brothers finally found impossible to
Many commentators have considered Joseph to be an almost
perfect type of Christ. Though a number of interesting parallels can be noted,
it should not be forgotten that the New Testament nowhere speaks of Joseph as a
type of Christ.
Jacob recognized Joseph’s leadership capabilities by placing
him in charge of the work of shepherding the flock, even though he was younger
than the four brothers he was working with. The phrase "feeding the
flock" actually connotes that he was "shepherd over the flock".
OF MANY COLORS
Joseph’s authority was also indicated by the "coat
of colors" which his father made for him. The word "colors"
(Hebrew passim) is uncertain in meaning, and newer translations often
render it "long sleeves." People have often wondered why a
trifle like this gaudy garment should have provoked the murderous hatred of all
the brethren. We now know from the painted Tombs of the Bene Hassein in Egypt
that, in the Patriarchal age, Semitic chiefs wore coats of many colors
as insignia of rulership. Joseph had made himself disliked by his
brothers for reporting on them; and Jacob, in giving him a coat of many colors, marked
him for the chieftainship of the tribes at his father’s death. Add to this
the lad’s vanity in telling his dreams, and the rage of the brethren becomes
THE DREAM Genesis 37:5-8
At this time, Joseph had a remarkable dream. Scripture does
not say whether this dream came from the Lord (although its later fulfillment
makes this likely) or whether it was only an expression of Joseph’s
subconscious feelings and ambitions, or both. In any case, even if the dream
came from the Lord, it was for his own encouragement, not for their edification,
and he was very unwise to insist on telling it to them.
The three times the word dream is used emphasizes three
motives for the dream:
||In his dream Joseph sees himself at peace with his
brothers and not at all separated.
||Together we wanted to gather the small sheaves which each
of us had bound, and make them, in the midst of the field, into a large heap
||But my sheaf refused, arose and stood upright- and now the
other sheaves gathered around mine and bowed to it!
| (Rabbi Samson Raphael
Hirsch Commentary on the Torah)
Of course, they were but shepherds now, and only much later
their descendants were to become a people, devoted to agriculture. Was Joseph
thinking of the future?
JOSEPH’S DREAM #2 (SUN,
MOON, STARS) Genesis 37:9-11
AND THE MOON AND THE ELEVEN STARS
But then Joseph had still another dream, and this time, it was
not only his brothers, but also his mother and father, who were bowing down to
him! He understood that he was to be preeminent over his entire family. Once
again, even assuming the dream came from the Lord, he was foolish and even
arrogant to tell it, not only to his brothers this time but also to his father.
This time, even his father rebuked him. Jacob, who had known the Lord more
intimately than anyone of his generation, had difficulty believing that this
dream was anything but the product of Joseph’s egocentric subconscious.
Regardless of whether Joseph should have reported the dream or
not, it does seem likely that it really was sent from God. As unlikely as
it may have seemed at the time, it eventually was fulfilled. Furthermore, almost
the same symbols appeared in the visions of the apostle John (Revelation 12:1),
again probably representing Israel and the twelve tribes. Though Jacob
had felt he should rebuke Joseph for dreaming such things and for interpreting
them as prophetic of his own future preeminence, he wondered in his heart
whether Joseph might be right after all.
JOSEPH LOOKS FOR HIS BRETHREN -
THE PLOT AGAINST HIM Genesis 37:12-22
While the incident that follows has no real justification, it
is important to clarify its motives. We are not dealing with a gang of hoodlums
who do not think anything of committing a murder for the sake of a laced coat
and hurt feelings. We see that the brothers, when their conscience began to
bother them, did not seem to regret their actual crime as much as the cruelty
that was employed, indicating that they did not consider their action to be a
An unusual, even strange, development took place at this time.
Jacob and his sons were living at Hebron, at least fifty miles south of their
old home in Shechem. Presumably there was adequate pasturage around Hebron,
especially since Esau had moved away. For some reason, however, the older
brothers decided to take the flocks back up to Shechem to feed.
WILL SEND THEE UNTO THEM
Finally, Jacob became so concerned about them, what if the
Canaanites and Perizzites of the region had indeed attached them (Genesis
34:30)? Jacob sent Joseph who he know he could depend on for a reliable and
truthful investigation and report, but he must have had some misgivings about
sending him because of the length of the journey (it would take him at least two
days to make the fifty miles) and the dangers of the land.
US GO TO DOTHAN
Dothan was about twenty miles north of Shechem; so it took
Joseph at least another day to reach there. The word "Dothan"
is believed to mean "two cisterns," and was presumably so named
because of two storage wells there. One of these cisterns was dry at the time
Joseph’s brothers were there, and it was into this well that they later
decided to place him. Possibly both wells were dry, so that the men were perhaps
frustrated at this point anyway, not finding water after they had led their
flocks so far from home. This is a good type in that this narrative suggest that
the brothers represent the nation of Israel, wandering far from the Father’s
house while searching for greener pastures out in the world, but finding none.
"For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the
fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that
can hold no water" (Jeremiah 2:13).
In the further development of this type, Joseph is believed to
represent the Lord Jesus Christ, who was sent from the Father to the chosen
people, but who was rejected and slain by them. "He was in the world,
and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own,
and his own received him not" (John 1:10,11).
THIS DREAMER COMETH
The Hebrew word here is Baal Hachalomoth, which means Master
of Dreams, this master dreamer. A form of speech which conveys great contempt.
They had no doubt previously been muttering about Joseph, and their anger had
built to the point where they had actually discussed getting rid of him somehow.
Now, here he was, giving them the perfect opportunity. They could slay him,
throw him into one of the empty cisterns, and then report back to their father
that he had been killed by a wild animal. That would be the end of his dreams!
They saw in him a dangerous rival, guilty enough to deserve death.
US NOT KILL HIM
He had incurred the murderous hatred of his brothers, and as
he approached them in Dothan, he little realized the awful deed they were about
to plan. Though it would be a terrible and bitter experience for him, in the providence
of God it would work together for good. He himself, with his serious
personal problem of pride and arrogance, needed to learn humility and patience
before his remarkable gifts of intellectual brilliance and political
leadership could be put to God’s use.
His brothers, also, before they could be brought to genuine repentance
and spiritual maturity, as necessary for the founders of the tribes of
Israel, must be taught the awful consequences of sin and must themselves be
brought low in confession and humiliation.
The nation which would come from their loins must also be
prepared by suffering and divine deliverance to believe and trust God and
His promises, as well as to obey His laws. All of this, in the
providence of God, would be the ultimate outcome of the traumatic experience
Joseph was about to undergo as he approached his brothers in Dothan.
Reuben, of all the brothers, would seem to have the most cause
to resent Joseph, since Jacob obviously intended to give Joseph the birthright
instead of him, the oldest son. His defense of Joseph is therefore, the more
commendable. Reuben intended, if possible, to help Joseph escape back to his
father, but he knew the murderous intent of the brothers would not allow this
Joseph evidently realized that Reuben was really trying to
save him; probably Reuben actually whispered words to this effect as they later
cast him into the pit. Years later, Joseph indicated he remembered this by holding
Simeon (the next oldest of the sons), rather than Reuben, captive in his
prison (Genesis 42:24).
JOSEPH IS SOLD TO THE
ISHMAELITES - THEN TO THE EGYPTIANS Genesis 37:23-36
COMPANY OF ISHMAELITES
We may naturally suppose that this was a caravan,
composed of different tribes that, for their greater safety, were traveling
together, and of which Ishmaelites and Midianites made the chief.
In the Chaldee they are called Arabians, which, from the word Arab,
which means to mingle, was in all probability used by the Targumist as the word
Arabians is used among us, which comprehends a vast number of Clans or Tribes of
people. The Jerusalem Targum calls them Sarkin, what we term Saracens. In the
Persian, the clause stands thus: Karavanee Ismaaleem Araban Aya. "A
caravan of Ishmaelites Arabs came."
PROFIT IS IT
Seeing the Ishmaelites, however, gave Judah an idea. Why not
sell Joseph to them as a slave, whom they in turn could sell in Egypt? That way,
Joseph would be removed from any further influence in the family-which was what
the brothers wanted most-and still his life would be spared and they would not
be guilty of murder. After all, he was their brother, and that should count for
something. On top of that, they could actually make a financial profit for
In the mean while, the brethren being at meal, some Midianite
merchants, casually passing by the hearing human cries from the pit near the
roadside, carry off Joseph (Gen. 45:4) and sell him to the caravan going to
Egypt. The brothers did not thus actually sell Joseph. He was ‘stolen
away’, as he himself says in (Gen. 40:15). So even though the brothers
didn’t sell Joseph, they did noting to prevent the sale, and the entire
responsibility rested upon them.
PIECES OF SILVER
After bargaining a bit, they settled on a price of twenty
pieces of silver as Joseph’s price. The price paid for Joseph was later fixed
as the price of dedication for a young man or boy (Leviticus 27:5). The price of
a mature slave was set at thirty pieces of silver (Exodus 21:32).
THE CONVENIENT LIE Genesis
They all finally settled on a convenient lie. They would lead
their father to think Joseph had been slain by a wild beast, as they had
originally intended to say anyway (verse 20). They would not overtly tell a lie,
however; they would simply let their father deduce this from the evidence. They
dipped Joseph’s coat in the blood of a slain kid of the goats, and then had it
brought to their father when they finally returned home. They said they had
"found it" (not saying where they had found it), and
wanted him to tell them whether he thought it might be Joseph’s coat. Jacob,
of course, immediately recognized it. But, rather than questioning his sons more
carefully, in grief he jumped to the conclusion that Joseph had been slain by an
animal and torn in pieces. (He evidently didn’t stop to notice that the cloak
was not torn in pieces.)
His daughters also tried to comfort him. This is the first
mention of any daughters besides Dinah, though they are also mentioned in
Genesis 46:7,15, so that he must have had at least one other daughter by this
WILL GO DOWN INTO THE GRAVE (Sheol)
He said that he would continue to mourn until he actually died
and went to his son in Sheol (translated "the grave,"
but really referring to the place of departed spirits).
AN OFFICER OF PHARAOH’S
Potiphar is called an "officer," but the
Hebrew word is saris, meaning "eunuch," which fact is no
doubt partially explanatory of his wife’s later attempt to seduce Joseph. His
office was the rather unsavory duty of captain of the "guard,"
or, more literally, the "slaughters" or "executioners"
for Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. Actuality he was called "prince of the
cooks". In Pharaoh’s state, the most important state of ancient
times, we meet "princes" of the cooks, bakers etc., a
significant fact. In an ancient state of Egyptian demensions where the kings
assumed Divine status, a ray of reflected splendor also shone upon those who
were allowed to serve the exalted ruler. - However, the office of the
"prince of cooks" involved another terrible assignment: the
slaughterer of animals was at the same time slaughterer of human beings:
Nebuzaradan, captain of the guard was also the royal court’s chief
executioner! (II Kings 25:8,9).
JUDAH AND TAMAR Genesis 38:1-30
The time that elapsed between the events of Genesis 37, when
Joseph was sent into Egypt, and those of chapter 47, which describe the coming
of Jacob into Egypt, was about twenty-two years (Genesis 37:2; 41:46; 41:53;
45:6). It is strange and sad that almost the only information we have concerning
Joseph’s family back in Canaan during that period (except concerning their
trips down into Egypt to buy corn) is the tale of Judah’s shameful experience
with Tamar, as recorded in Genesis 38.
In the history of Jacob’s family the two central persons are
Judah and Joseph. The former became the leader of his brethren and
the ancestor of David; the latter, from his noble character and personal
influence on the future destinies of Jacob’s children, is regarded as next in
importance. Before recounting Joseph’s fortunes in Egypt, Scripture records
the following incident in the life of Judah, so as to draw a contrast between his
conduct and that of Joseph in the hour of Temptation.
Judah had become friendly with an Adullamite named Hirah, and
decided to live near him. Judah was possibly so disturbed by his brother’s
actions, and his father’s resulting grief, that he resolved to get away from
the entire situation. Since Judah was evidently looking for a wife he did not
even consult his father, Jacob, in the matter, nor even the girl’s father,
Shua. He apparently simply married her on his own initiative. Shua’s daughter,
though physically attractive to Judah, was a true Canaanite, not only in
parentage but in character, and was evidently unwilling to be converted to the
worship of Jehovah. It is true that the Bible does not say this, but the
inference is justified in view of the fact that all three of her sons were
rejected by God from carrying on Judah’s patriarchal line. Two of them, at
least, were notoriously wicked, and it is likely that their characters largely
reflected their mother’s character and teaching.
Evidently her three sons were born in fairly rapid succession.
They were named Er (meaning "watcher," so named
by Judah), Onan (meaning "strong," named by his
mother), and Shelah (also named by his mother, the meaning of the
name being uncertain).
As Er grew into his late teens, Judah was anxious to obtain a
wife for his oldest son. Knowing the weak and sinful character of his sons as he
must have by this time, he probably felt it was all the more important that a
wife be selected for his oldest son who would be a good influence on her
husband, as well as on her children. Tamar was indeed to be the mother of the
Messianic line from Judah; so we must assume that God Himself, in the long view,
must have participated in this choice.
JUDAH’S FIRSTBORN, WAS WICKED...THE LORD
In view of Onan’s specific sin, which later resulted in his
death also, it seems most probable that Er’s sin had to do with his refusal to
consummate the marriage with Tamar as arranged for him by his father.
THE DUTY OF A HUSBAND’S BROTHER
This refers to the custom of the Levirate Marriage by
which a surviving brother-in-law (in Latin Levir) marries the childless
widow, see Deut. 25:5 and compare Ruth 4:5. The eldest son of such a marriage
inherited the name and property of the deceased.
SPILLED IT ON THE GROUND
In his indecisiveness, he did go ahead and marry Tamar and
actually "went in unto his brother’s wife." At the last moment,
however, he changed his mind and "spilled the seed on the ground."
As a result, the Lord was greatly displeased, and slew Onan also.
A WIDOW AT THY FATHER’S HOUSE, TILL
SHELAH BE GROWN
Still, Judah did have a serious obligation to Tamar, and he
did want a grandson who would carry on his family line and patriarchal
leadership. Not knowing what to do, he simply deferred his decision for a time.
Shelah was not really quite old enough to get married anyway; so he told Tamar
to wait for a while until Shelah was older. As things later developed, of
course, Shelah did not marry Tamar. That he did marry someone, however, is
evident, in that be became the ancestor of the Shelanites, in the tribe
of Judah (Numbers 26:20).
OF HER WIDOWHOOD
To prevent detection by Judah. She resorts to a disguise and
stratagem that must have appeared quite honorable in her Canaanite eyes. Even
the profession of temple prostitute was considered respectable. It is known that
in many such ancient religious systems, all the women of the community were
expected to devote themselves on occasion to this practice, as an actual votive
offering to their pagan gods and goddesses. That she was actually posing as such
a temple prostitute, rather than as a common harlot, is evident from the fact
that the word used to describe her later by the Canaanite men themselves (Hebrew
cedesha, meaning "one set apart," as used in verses 21
and 22) was the word used for this purpose. She assumes the veil of a votary of
Astarte. Her intention was to force Judah himself to perform the levirate duty.
In pre-Mosaic times, it seems, every member of the late husband’s family was
under that obligation.
In v. 21 she is described as a Kedeshah; that is, a
woman dedicated to impure heathen worship. This repulsive custom was common in
ancient Phoenicia and Babylonia and survives in many forms of Hindu worship. No Kedeshah
was permitted in Israel. See Deut. 23:17
He must have known quite well that sex outside of marriage was
not pleasing to the God whom he was trying, however poorly, to serve, but he
(like many others since) was a rather weak and carnal believer, and he justified
himself on the basis of all his other trials and tribulations and his won
immediate physical needs, which could be satisfied in no other way, so he
thought. Therefore he turned aside to Tamar and struck up a bargain with her for
her favors. He agreed to send her a kid from his flock in payment. In the
meantime, until he could return to his flock he would leave his signet,
bracelets and his staff. These were the insignia of a sheikh in Canaan, as of a
man of rank among the Babylonians and Egyptians.
FOUND HER NOT
However, search and inquire as he would, Hirah could find
neither the woman nor anyone who remembered ever seeing her there. The men who
were regularly in the area assured him that there was no prostitute who
frequented that place. Mystified, Hirah finally had to return to Judah with his
PLAYED THE HARLOT
It was some three months later when Judah heard a bit of
shocking news. His daughter-in-law, Tamar, was pregnant! He was
righteously indignant. Not only had she somehow been the occasion of the death
of two of his sons, but here she had disgraced their memory, and his own name as
well, by an adulterous intrigue with some nameless lover.
HER BE BURNT
Judah, as head of the family, had power of life and death;
compare Gen. 31:32. Tamar was the betrothed of Shelah, and betrothal was
considered to be as binding as marriage. The penalty for adultery in such a
case, even in an ungodly society like that of Canaan, was death, as may
be observed in the Code of Khammurabi and other ancient codes.
THE MAN, WHOSE THESE ARE, AM I
He himself -self -righteous Judah!- had been the adulterer
responsible for her condition. There was no doubt about it, because she brought
forth his seal and cord and staff to prove it. Tamar did
know enough about Judah that she had confidence he would treat her fairly, once
he saw the full truth of the situation. She had been more righteous than he.
Rather than slaying her and her unborn child, he would care for them as his own.
He could no longer give her to Shelah, nor would it be right for him to live
with her as husband and wife, but he would at least acknowledge her son as his
WERE IN HER WOMB
As it turned out, Tamar, instead of bearing one son, was to be
the mother of two sons. The entire situation was, in many respects, similar to
the birth of Jacob and Esau, with an apparent conflict between the two sons even
before birth. There seemed almost to be a contest between the two as to which
would have the honor of being firstborn.
The midwife attending the birth first saw a tiny hand emerge
and, in order to keep the twins distinct, assuming this one would be born first,
she tied a scarlet thread on his hand. But the, surprisingly, his hand drew
back, and the other twin forged ahead and came out first. The latter was named Pharez,
meaning "breaking-through," in token of the manner of his
birth. The other was named Zerah, meaning "rising."
It was he on whose hand had been tied the scarlet thread. There is no connection
between the scarlet thread (Hebrew shani) of Zerah and the line of
scarlet thread (Hebrew chut) used by Rahab (Joshua 2:18,21). The two
words are quite different.
Tamar, therefore, had the
distinction of being one of the few women whose names are listed in the official
genealogy of Jesus (Matthew 1:3). The others were Rahab, Ruth, and the
one who had been wife of Uriah, that is, Bathsheba (Matthew 1:5,6). Tamar
was a Canaanite, Rahab a native of Jericho and thus presumably also a Canaanite,
Ruth was a Moabitess, and Bathsheba probably a Hittite (at least by marriage to
Uriah, if not by birth). Each of the four came into the family of Judah and
Israel by morally dubious means. Tamar posed as a prostitute, Rahab was a harlot
by profession, Ruth persuaded Boaz to marry her by the questionable device of
spending the night with him, and Bathsheba became wife of King David by first
committing adultery with him. Each one became a strong and faithful believer in
God; and God signally honored them by placing them in the genealogical line of
the Messiah. Rahab became one of the heroes of faith in the New Testament
(Hebrews 11:31). What a marvelous testimony to God’s grace, and the truth that
God forgives past sins and brings new life!
"Jacob in Canaan"