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Thursday, October 28, 2010

Old Testament Tales - Joseph

I'm teaching a class on faith and science at church on Sunday. If you want to see my notes, I'm posting them on http://refracted-muse.blogspot.com


Joseph
1. Who was Joseph’s mother?
2. Was Joseph the youngest son?
3. Was Joseph a patriarch?
4. What did Judah do?
5. Which brother didn’t want Joseph to be killed?
6. Who was Joseph sold to first?
7. When did Joseph first know he could interpret dreams?
8. How forgiving was Joseph?
9. What happened to Joseph’s sons?
10. What happened when Joseph died?

Joseph was the first-born of his father’s favorite wife, Rachel. For a long time he was the youngest son—most likely the spoiled pet. He was probably a young teen when the family moved back to Canaan—Jacob is said to have worked 7 years each for Leah, Rachel, and his flocks, but the number might be symbolic (7 can stand for a plan). Soon after the journey, Rachel’s second child Benjamin is born and Rachel dies. At seventeen, Joseph tells tales on his brothers (Gen 37) and is rewarded with a multi-colored coat. He also, rather tactlessly, tells his brothers about dreams in which their sheaves of corn bow to his, or where 11 stars and the sun and moon, representing his family (except for Dinah presumably) bow to him. Even Jacob is less than impressed with him. Meanwhile his brothers plot murder, though Reuben suggests they just give Joseph a scare. Joseph is thrown in an empty pit and Reuben wanders off. Meanwhile Ishmaelite traders come by and Judah sells his brother for 20 pieces of silver, returning home with a colored coat soaked in animal blood to tell Jacob Joseph is dead.

Back home, Judah marries and has three sons. The first son marries and dies, so his wife, in accordance with custom, marries the second, who also dies after trying to avoid having children (Gen 38). Tamar, the wife, should then be given to the third son, but Judah decides she’s bad luck and sends her away. Tamar then pretends to be a harlot so Judah will sleep with her and she bears twin sons, one of whom becomes an ancestor of King David and of Jesus.

Joseph is taken to Egypt and sold to Potiphar. He prospers but is thrown in jail after refusing the advances of Potiphar’s wife. There he interprets the dreams of two of Pharaoh’s servants. Two years later, Pharaoh’s having dreams that his magicians can’t interpret. The surviving servant suggests Joseph might help. Joseph predicts a famine, crediting God for the warning. He’s placed in charge of storing up food during the intervening years so the people won’t starve. Joseph eventually nationalizes farms to protect livestock and introduces 20% taxes (Gen 47) as the land recovers.

Nomadic tribes often went to Egypt, as Abraham did, during a famine, camping just outside and sending representatives to ask permission to enter. Jacob refuses his brothers permission, accuses them of spying, and throws them in jail. He keeps Simeon hostage when he sends the others back, sending food and money, presumably to save Benjamin (who didn’t travel with them). Joseph insists if they want Simeon back they must bring their youngest brother next time, but Jacob won’t let Reuben take Benjamin. Eventually the family needs more food and all the brothers return. When Joseph tries to keep Benjamin behind, framing him for theft, Judah sticks up for his brother and Joseph finally reveals himself. He invites the family to stay in Goshen, an area that’s great for shepherds but undesirable to Egyptian farmers, the fact that the family are shepherds making them less of a threat to the Pharaoh (Gen 46,47). Seventeen years later Jacob dies and gives Joseph’s younger son, Ephraim, the older son’s blessing. Joseph carries his father’s body back to Abraham’s tomb for burial, but Joseph’s body is embalmed when he dies and placed in an Egyptian coffin so the Israelites can carry them back to Canaan when God leads them out of Egypt.

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