Lesson 8: Joseph: Genesis 37 & 39-45
What if… Joseph really was a pain?
Joseph’s Childhood (Genesis 37):
The stories of Joseph’s childhood are probably quite familiar, but the details may be less so.
Genesis 37:1-4. Note, Joseph appears to be a teenager, not a little boy, when he gets his coat.
Genesis 37:5-11. Did Joseph’s brothers hate him because his father loved him, or because he kept telling them that he was better than them? Certainly he doesn’t appear to the most tactful of younger brothers.
Genesis 37:19-24. Note that Reuben is playing the good older brother part. He seems to want Joseph scared rather than harmed.
Genesis 37:25-29. Note, Reuben does not take part in selling Joseph, and this clearly isn’t what he planned for. It’s interesting to note the traders are Ishmaelites – there is still travel and trade between the two tribes.
Genesis 37:31-35. Jacob’s sons and daughters try to console him. Probably the daughters are Dinah and the wives of the sons.
It’s interesting to note the relationships of the brothers at this point:
Reuben is the oldest son; helpful (Genesis 30:14); tries to keep the peace (Genesis 37:21-22); not involved in death of Dinah’s boyfriend (Genesis 34:25); behaved badly with father’s concubine (Genesis 35:22).
Simeon and Levi are the next oldest: murdered the family of Dinah’s boyfriend (Genesis 34:25); Simeon is treated as an oldest son (Genesis 48:5).
Judah is the Jacob’s fourth son, and Leah’s fourth; his sons are the ones married to Tamar, who seduces Judah to enforce marital protection; he stands surety for Benjamin when they go to Egypt (Genesis 43:8-10). The tribe of Judah becomes the dominant tribe, and Jesus is born from the line of Judah and Tamar.
Joseph in Egypt (Genesis 39-45):
Again, the stories are probably familiar, but some of the details are frequently forgotten.
What if…Potiphar’s wife was just doing what rich wives did?
Joseph has been well-taught in his father’s household and becomes a successful servant to Potiphar (Genesis 39:1-6). But Potiphar’s wife causes trouble (Genesis 39:10-14). Her actions don’t seem extraordinary in the light of other records of the times, and the detail of Joseph’s leaving his garment behind fits with how a servant might be expected to be clothed.
What if… Joseph wasn’t such a downtrodden prisoner?
Joseph achieves a high position in jail (Genesis 39:21-23) so he’s not quite the hopeless case we usually imagine. When he interprets the cupbearer’s and baker’s dreams (Genesis 40:8) he makes it clear that the interpretations belong to God. His concern for their looking sad is probably because he’ll get in trouble if the prisoners don’t look well cared for.
What if… God gives messages to non-believers?
Joseph gives God’s interpretation of Pharaoh’s dream (Genesis 41:12-16). Clearly he’s not disturbed by the idea of God trusting important information to non-believers. As a result he comes to power in Egypt, marries a princess (Genesis 41:38-45), and has two sons (Genesis 41:50-52)
What if… Joseph instituted taxes?
The famine starts after Joseph’s sons are born. Joseph has been gathering grain during the years of plenty, and opens the storehouses to feed the people (Genesis 41:56). Soon he’s selling to foreign visitors, and Egypt’s doing pretty well, but probably has to be careful who it trusts – hence the suggestion that Joseph’s brothers may be spies (Genesis 42:6-7). As the drought worsens, Joseph seems to institute a whole new form of taxation in Egypt, increasing the pharaoh’s power and property enormously (Genesis 47:13-26).
What if… Joseph wasn’t so quick to forgive?
The brothers arrive in Egypt as a troop of 10 men. They would make a large enough group to appear threatening, like an army contingent, and so are accused of being spies (Genesis 42:9). Joseph, far from being instantly forgiving, sends them to jail for 3 days (Genesis 42:17), then holds Simeon hostage (Genesis 42:24). When the brothers find their money stuffed back into their sacks of grain, it’s not clear if Joseph intended to scare them or to help them (Genesis 42:35-38).
The brothers return in Genesis 43 bringing Benjamin. Judah promises faithfully to take care of him (Genesis 43:9), and when Joseph frames him (Genesis 44) Judah pleads for him (Genesis 44:33).
The familiar family reunion doesn’t take place till Genesis 45. Perhaps it was all a ploy to make sure he had a chance to see his mother’s son, or perhaps he was testing to see if the brother’s would still betray their father’s favorite.
And Joseph’s parting message as the brother’s go home is “Don’t quarrel on the way.” (Genesis 45:24)