The Patriarchal Period

Joseph

[Gen 37 - 56]

Joseph’s dreams

[Gen 37] Being a son of Jacob’s old age (Benjamin was younger), Joseph is loved more than his other children. Joseph’s brothers are aware of this and hate him for it. When Joseph is about seventeen years old he has dreams, which he relates to his brothers. The first of these dreams implies all Joseph’s brothers will bow down and worship him, and the second includes his parents in this act of worship. Joseph is hated the more for his dreams and his brothers plot to kill him. Reuben dissuades them, so they strip him of his ‘coat of many colours’ and sell him to some passing Ishmaelites, who take him to Egypt and sell him to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh. The brothers cover Joseph’s coat with goat’s blood and show it to their father, who assumes he has been killed by wild animals and mourns him for many days.

Judah and Tamar

[Gen 38] Joseph’s story is interrupted here by a sordid tale concerning his half-brother Judah and his daughter-in-law Tamar. Judah marries a Canaanite by the name of Shuah and has three sons by her: Er, Onan and Shelah. When Er comes of age, Judah finds him a wife by the name of Tamar. Er was wicked in the sight of the Lord and the Lord slew him. Judah then gives his second son to Tamar to raise a child in his brother’s name. (This is known as a Levirite marriage.) Onan isn’t happy with this arrangement and spills his seed on the ground during intercourse. For this reason, the Lord also slays Onan. Judah then asks Tamar to remain a widow at her father’s house until his youngest son, Shelah, comes of age. However, when Shelah is of age, the arrangement is not honoured by Judah. After some time, Judah’s wife dies and he goes to join his sheep shearers at Timnath. Tamar, hearing of this and resenting Judah’s treatment of her, discards her widow’s garments and covers herself, puts on a veil and sits in an open place on the way to Timnath. Judah sees her and, not recognising her, takes her to be a harlot because her face is covered. Having no means of payment at hand, Tamar suggests he gives her his signet, bracelets and staff as a pledge. Tamar conceives, returns home and puts her widow’s garments back on. Meanwhile, Judah is unable to honour his pledge because the ‘harlot’ is nowhere to be found. Three months later, Judah is told his daughter-in-law is pregnant through whoredom, so he demands she be brought to him to be burned. When he asks Tamar who the father is she produces his signet, bracelets and staff, and the truth is revealed. Tamar’s name is in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus.

Joseph and Potiphar’s wife

[Gen 39] Joseph is now in Potiphar’s service in which God blesses him and all he does is successful. Consequently, Potiphar puts him in charge of his house and all he owns. Potiphar’s wife takes a liking to Joseph and attempts to seduce him on several occasions, but each time he refuses her. One day, she catches him by his cloak while trying to entice him to bed. Joseph pulls himself away and leaves the house, but his cloak is pulled off him. Having his cloak in her possession, Potiphar’s wife accuses Joseph of trying to seduce her, and Potiphar has him thrown in the prison where the king’s prisoners are held. Even in prison, God blesses Joseph in all he does and the prison keeper puts him in charge of all the prisoners.

The butler and baker’s dreams

[Gen 40] The king of Egypt’s butler and baker had offended the king and were both imprisoned, coming under the charge of Joseph. In time, they both have dreams, which Joseph interprets. The butler’s dream was of a vine with three branches producing grapes, which he pressed into Pharaoh’s cup. The baker’s dream was of three white baskets on his head, the top containing ‘bakemeats’ for Pharaoh that birds came and ate. Both interpretations are realised in three days, the butler being restored to office but the baker executed. Joseph asks the butler to remember him to Pharaoh, but he forgets.

Pharaoh’s dreams

[Gen 41] Two years later Pharaoh has two dreams. The first is about seven fat and lean cattle and the second seven fat and thin ears of corn. No one is able to interpret these dreams. The butler remembers his own experience with Joseph and mentions this to Pharaoh. Joseph, now thirty, is summoned and announces that it is God who will give the interpretation. Not only does Joseph explain that the dreams foretell seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine, but also advises Pharaoh on how to cater for the famine years. Recognising that Joseph has the spirit of God in him, he makes him ruler of all Egypt, second only to Pharaoh. Joseph is given Asenath, the daughter of a priest, as his wife. (They have two sons before the famine comes, Manasseh and Ephraim.) During the next seven years the harvest is plentiful and storehouses in all the cities are filled with corn. After seven years, a severe famine hits Egypt and the lands around, and all the people now have to go to Joseph to buy corn from the storehouses.

Famine and a family reunion

[Gen 42-45] Jacob, also suffering from the famine, sends ten of his sons to Egypt to buy corn, keeping Benjamin at home with him. It is Joseph from whom they have to buy the corn. Joseph recognises his brothers, but they do not recognise him and he deals harshly with them, accusing them of being spies while all the time speaking through an interpreter. In pleading their innocence they mention their youngest brother, Benjamin. Joseph eventually sells them corn, but to prove themselves they must return with Benjamin. Meanwhile, Simeon is to be held as security. Unbeknown to the brothers, Joseph has their payment for the corn placed in their sacks. This they don’t discover until they stop to feed the animals, but are afraid to return and continue home. When all this is related to Jacob, he refuses to allow Benjamin to go back with them, having lost Joseph some twenty years earlier and now Simeon, because he has been held captive. Eventually, they run out of food again and need to return to Egypt. After some argument, Jacob agrees to let Benjamin go with them and tells them to  take gifts and double money to return the money owed from their first trip. Hearing they have come again to Egypt, Joseph instructs the head of his house to bring them to him at noon to dine with him. When they arrive and Joseph sees Benjamin, he is overcome with emotion and has to go to his room to weep. After composing himself, he returns and they sit to dine. Joseph’s brothers are amazed that the table is set according to Hebrew custom. The next day they leave, but Joseph has ordered their money to be put in their sacks and his silver cup put in Benjamin’s sack. He then sends his steward to follow them with intent to accuse them and find the silver cup. The brothers deny any accusation and even offer the life of the one in whose sack the silver cup is found. When it is found in Benjamin’s they ‘rent their clothes’ in despair and return to the city. Joseph tells them that the man in whose sack the cup was found will be his servant and the rest of them are free to return home. Judah begs Joseph to let him take the place of Benjamin and allow Benjamin to return to his father. Joseph is no longer able to contain himself and weeps. He sends everyone out of the room except his brothers and reveals himself to them. He tells them it was God’s plan that he should go ahead of them into Egypt so that the family would be able to survive the famine. Pharaoh hears of this reunion and tells the brothers they are to bring their father and families to Egypt, and that he will provide wagons and food for the journey.

Israel settles in Egypt

[Gen 46-47] Having heard the good news concerning Joseph, and encouraged by a vision from God, Jacob and his family head for Egypt with all their livestock. Following an emotional meeting, Joseph tells his brethren to say they are shepherds. Since shepherds are an abomination to the Egyptians, they will be given the land of Goshen in which to live, separate from the rest of Egypt but having good pasture. Including Joseph’s wife and children, Jacob’s family number seventy when they settle in Egypt. Joseph is now able to provide food for all his brethren. In time, the Egyptians have no more money and have to exchange their flocks and property for corn. By this means Joseph renders all the livestock and land their king’s property.

Jacob blesses his sons

[Gen 48:1-49:32] When Jacob is approaching death, Joseph takes his sons to him to be blessed. Jacob’s sight has become poor, so Joseph positions his sons in order that the eldest is in front of Jacob’s right hand to receive the firstborn’s blessing, but Jacob crosses his hands and it is Ephraim who receives this blessing. Joseph objects, but Jacob’s action is deliberate. Jacob then gathers his sons together to bless them before he dies. After blessing each in turn, he gives instructions that he should be buried with Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah and Leah.

The deaths of Jacob and Joseph

[Gen 49:33-50:26] After blessing his sons and expressing his burial wishes, Jacob passes away. He is embalmed and mourned for forty days before being taken to be buried with great pomp and ceremony. On returning to Egypt, Joseph gives his brethren instructions for his own burial. Joseph dies at the age of 110.
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