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Lesson 6: Genesis 37, 38

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Are you a MAC or are you a PC? Both computers, both can take you to the internet but there are differences, and loyal owners can tell you every detailed one of them. Interesting that in advertising MAC has boldly represented a MAC owner compared to a PC and just let that visible comparison of the two men sell the product. When you look at the two which one do you want to be?

Scripture writers use that technique too, they position a chapter, a story right next to another story or they sandwich in a story between bookends that they want the reader notice, to compare and contrast and see the difference.

We see that comparison in our lesson today with Genesis 37 and Genesis 38, really includes Genesis 39 which we’ll study next week. Two sons of Jacob, two different stories of separation.

We’re introduced to young man Joseph in Genesis 37 and it’s interesting that God gives more details about his life than any other biblical character. Barnhouse says “in Joseph’s life we find one of the few characters in the Bible about whom nothing bad is reported. He had an Adamic nature, but there is no record of it. In the life of Joseph we find incidents that remind us of Christ, of whom he is a type.” 1 Joseph faces separation from his family/temptation. In contrast, in Chapter 38 we meet Judah, 3rd son of Leah. He too becomes separated from his family and after a time he faces temptation, but his responses are radically different from his brother. God is at work in both their lives:


I. Joseph is hated by his brothers - Genesis 37:1-11

II. Joseph is sold into slavery - Genesis 37:12-36

III. Judah is married to a Canaanite - Genesis 38:1-11

IV. Tamar gives birth to twins - Genesis 38:12-30

I. Joseph is hated - Genesis 37:1-11

A. Hebron. Genesis 37:14. Family is now settled in Hebron. MAP. Where his father Isaac had lived, where Abraham had lived with Sarah, where the family cemetery is. Settled in Hebron, but “settled” is hardly the right word to describe this family. There is confusion, disorder, sibling rivalry, hatred and amazingly Jacob seems unaware of the tension brewing. 10 against one. Why did the brothers have so much hatred for Joseph?

1. Bad reports. READ Genesis 37:2. Phrase “bad report” =when out in fields w/brothers he brought back to his dad reports that revealed their evil deeds, wrong doings. Not sure what they were, perhaps the brothers had mistreated the animals, or they disobeyed their father’s instructions, whatever he reported reflected poorly on his brothers. No doubt they were true but this had to add to their negative feelings toward him.

2. Favorite son. READ Genesis 37:3a. First born to the favored wife. He was younger than most of the brothers, Jacob loved him most, everyone knew it. Favortism is a reoccurring theme in this family. We’ve seen its devastating effects between Isaac and Rebekah, Esau and Jacob, here its repeated again, evidenced by READ Genesis 37:3b.

3. Richly ornamented robe we don’t know exactly what it looked like, Hebrew= kethoneth=tunic followed by passim=ankles or wrists Jewish Study Bible translates it as “ornamental robe” or “a coat of many colors” I personally like the idea of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”

Whatever it was it looked like a sign of nobility and it spoke volumes to the other brothers. Perhaps the kind of coat worn by those who don’t do physical labor, a coat worn by the heir, the one who was marked as inheriting the birthright, the power. When the brothers saw the coat it screamed to them Joseph was loved more, valued more and hated him. Ie. TIME magazine Oct 3, 2011 READ

We wonder why did Jacob do this? Didn’t he remember what favoritism had cost him in his childhood relationship with his brother? Or in the tension between his wives?

Why was Joseph hated? Not only did he bring his father bad reports, wear a gorgeous robe, he also had a couple of dreams that were clearly understood by everyone.

4. Symbolic dreams =predictions of his destiny

1. First dream. READ Genesis 37:6-8. No doubt Joseph cemented the brothers feelings toward him by sharing this dream. In this dream Joseph saw the harvest field and all the bundles of grain, suddenly his bundle stood up, erect, and all the brothers’ bundles bowed down to his. Meaning is obvious. This was a dream of Joseph’s power, position, dominance over them.

2. Second dream. READ Genesis 37:9, 10. This time not only the brothers but his mother (probably speaking of stepmother Leah) and father would bow down, Joseph would rule over the whole family of Israel. Little did they know how literally these dreams would come true, but the predictable results of sharing these dreams were: Genesis 37:8 they hated him even more Genesis 37:11 jealous of him. Ask: Should he have told them? Should he have shared these dreams with him? There’s no evidence that he bragged or boasted, he just told them, perhaps he was naïve in sharing with brothers who already hated him but these dreams reveal a destiny of greatness ahead for Joe. Already the scriptures present him as a very unusual young man, with strong moral character and faithfulness to his father

When we see him bring back a “bad report” it’s because he sees evil and tells, he’s honest. Whistleblower. The only people who hate whistleblowers are those who are guilty, the rest of us are really glad when someone blows the whistle on people/companies like Enron’s and Bernie Madoff’s. When someone stands up and reports wrong. We live in a society where we are trying hard to teach the children that truth-telling is not being a snitch or a tattletale, but truth-telling is about stopping the wrong. There’s no evidence that Joseph’s motivation for the bad reports was revenge or any kind of payback, he told because he saw wrong and couldn’t keep silent.

Ie At the beach, kids hitting birds, told the parents. There were no retaliatory consequences for me but for Joseph, his truth-telling resulted in his brother’s hatred.

Truth: Be ready to pay the price because sometimes truth-telling is painfully costly.

Application: is there a truth you need to tell but you’re holding back because you’re afraid of the consequences? Is there a situation you need to confront because it’s wrong?

II. Joseph is sold into slavery Genesis 37:12-36

A. Sent by father. READ Genesis 37:12-17. Probably the sons had traveled back north toward Shechem for better grazing lands (do you remember Genesis 35 what happened in this city) this was familiar land to them, lived in this area, Jacob owned land in this area. But they were gone so long Jacob became concerned for them, so he sent Joseph to check on their safety. Jacob should have known the emotional temperature of this family, should have known that if he sent out the boy to his brothers they might try to harm him, teach him a lesson. Joseph is instructed to go and he obeys. Not only does he go to Shechem he goes 20 miles north to Dothan in search of them MAP He is faithful to his father’s desires, this is an obedient son, does what his father has asked him to do.

B. Seen by his brothers. READ Genesis 37:18-23. At a distance the brothers see him, perhaps long before they see his face they see his coat “Guess who’s coming? Daddy’s favorite little boy, the dreamer, I just can’t stand him” full of envy and hatred toward him, plan to kill him. No surprise, we’ve seen these brothers kill and plunder now it’s directed toward their own brother. At this point Reuben steps up and suggests let’s not kill him but let’s sell him. We want to admire him for this, but he’s the eldest he knew the whole plan was wrong (Genesis 37:22) planning to rescue Joseph. Why didn’t he stand up to the rest of them, forget it, it’s our brother, why did he try instead to compromise? They go along with him; strip Joseph of his coat and throw him into a pit and…

C. Sit down to eat. READ Genesis 37:25. Can you believe their callous attitude? Eating when their brother is crying out to them (Genesis 42:21) for his life, save me, get me out of here, please help me. The cistern was empty of water, but it was deep, dark, impossible to climb out without help. Perhaps Joseph had visions of a slow, tortuous death, keeps crying. While they’re eating lunch, caravan in the distance. Judah now takes charge tries to save his life

D. Sell him as a slave. READ Genesis 37:26-27. In Dothan they were on one of the main trade routes to Egypt. The terms Ishamelites and Midianites refer to the members of the caravan, two people groups who were both sons of Abraham. Judah says look really we only want this boy out of our lives, if we sell him we can make some money, they receive 20 shekels of silver, price of a young boy. We see how envy and jealousy can lead to selling a brother, selling their own flesh and blood.

F. Reuben returns Genesis 37:29 and looks in the pit and is surprised/ horrified to find Joseph gone “rent, tore his clothes” literal tearing is a way of showing grief or sadness, what am I supposed to do now? Likely they said something like “shut up Reuben, you wanted him gone just like the rest of us, here take this money, your share, we sold him, that’s better than killing him right? He’s on his way to Egypt and we’ll never see him again, so let’s think up a plan to tell dad”

G. Showed the coat to Jacob READ Genesis 37:31-35

They deceived him with the blood of a goat, ironic that Jacob years before had deceived his father Isaac with the skins of a goat. Repeated family sin of deception cycles again Can you imagine the guilt they must have felt when they heard Jacob crying, totally given over to grief and sadness, sobbing days on end and no one could comfort him. This guilt would be suppressed and carried for the next 20 years, covered up the truth

H. Meanwhile Genesis 37:36 Joseph arrives in Egypt and is sold to a prominent Egyptian official named Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officers. Interesting how he is placed in a prominent household, he is not out in the fields, but he is no longer the favored son, he is a slave in a foreign land. At this point Joseph has to make a choice. He’s at the crossroads where most of us have been or will be someday. Crossroads of response to unfair treatment. One road leads to bitterness, anger, frustration with God and with whoever has hurt you. The other road looks beyond your suffering to God’s purposes, says I don’t understand but God you have allowed it for my good, I trust you God, show me how can I grow through this pain? How can I learn to trust you more? We know this is the road Joseph took when we read the rest of the story. Again, as we look at Joseph, his character, his choices, if we want to handle injustice like Joseph we need to learn that..

Truth: Trusting God’s power and purposes enable us to endure suffering while refusing bitterness and anger. ( I Peter 2:20-23)

Application: Has something happened to you that has broken your heart? Have you been unjustly picked on? What’s your attitude? What are you doing about it? In times of suffering it’s hard to hear God loves you because what you’re going through doesn’t feel like love, feels hard, difficult. God is Sovereign, He has allowed it for your good, wonder in times like this would you be willing to pray: God use this in my life for good, show me Your presence, help me to find my strength, my sufficiency in You alone

III. Judah is married to a Canaanite - Genesis 38:1-11

A. Purposes for including this account. We’ve just begun the Joseph stories and we’re interrupted by a story in the life of Judah. Why is it here? Already said this story will be in Contrast to Joseph’s story in Genesis 37,39 but are perhaps other reasons.

1. It accounts for the three families of the tribe of Judah (Numbers 26:20; Shelah, Perez, Zereh)

2. It contributes to our knowledge of the ancestry of David and ultimately Jesus Christ who came through Perez. Judah’s prophesied messianic lineage continues through this relationship w/Tamar (Matthew 1:3)

3. It reveals the established practice of the levirate marriage (Deuteronomy 25:5-10)

A man was to marry a deceased brother’s widow to preserve his line.

4. It shows the likelihood of future Hebrew marriages with Canaanite women, other pagan people groups, possibility of assimilation of the Hebrews into other cultures, other faiths if they remained in Palestine. Ultimately the Abrahamic covenant was threatened by his intermarriage. God knew this might happen and prophesied in Gen 15:13-16 a temporary 400 year move from Canaan to Egypt, where we’ll see the Hebrews live very separate lives in Goshen with very little intermarriage, there the tribes stay intact. So perhaps we see in this story the need to go to Egypt.

B. Marriage READ Genesis 38:1. Remember Joseph sold into slavery, father is miserable, perhaps Judah just thought he had to get away. He “left” his brothers and went to stay in Addullum pagan city 13 SW of Bethlehem.He married a local girl:three sons, Er/ Onan Shelah.

C. Sons grow up and Judah finds a wife, Tamar, for the eldest. Bible is not clear here, but Er is evil and God kills him. Second son Onan refused to father a child by Tamar knowing the child would become his brother’s heir, killed by God, not so much for the sexual act of spilling his seed on the ground, but the evil in his heart. This left Shelah, last boy. Judah feared somehow Tamar was jinxed and if she married Shelah, he would die too, leave Judah w/o an heir. Sends her back to her father, until he says Shelah grows up. Perhaps hoping she’ll get tired of waiting and want to marry someone else,

IV. Tamar gives birth to twins - Genesis 38:12-30

..not so

A. Years roll by, Shelah is older, he is not given to Tamar, Judah does not keep his promise. Judah’s wife dies, after a period of mourning, old friend shows up and says what you need is to get out of the house, let’s go sheep shearing, word gets out that Judah is going to Timnah, Tamar finds out. She knows her father in law has no intention of keeping his promise to her, so she dresses up as a prostitute to deceive Judah sleep with him so that she could conceive his child. She positions herself to be right in his path, I still don’t get it, why didn’t he recognize her, maybe the veil, all the clothes, drinking champagne at the sheep shearing party. Sex, to pay her, isn’t it interesting he promises her a goat, goats are involved in all the deceptive scenes, gives her his seal and staff as a pledge. When he finds out she’s pregnant and he orders her to be burned to death she proves he’s the father by producing the pledge. To his credit he doesn’t try to cover up his sin, he admits it and says READ Genesis 38:26 she’s more righteous than I. I have a hard time calling her righteous but one commentator said Judah is at least saying Tamar was more in the right than he because he did not fulfill his responsibilities to her.2 Babies were born, Perez and Zerah, Don’t condone his sin, do admire his response.

Truth: Repentance is revealed when we are quick to acknowledge our sin and to take full responsibility for its consequences.

It would seem that because Judah humbled himself, God blessed him and raised him to be the head of the house of Israel and blessed his children. God loves a repentant heart. ENDING: 2stories 2 brothers, one God working His plan, His purposes in their lives.

1 Donald Grey Barnhouse, “Genesis” (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1970) 155.

2 Allen P. Ross, “Creation and Blessing” (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1996) 618.

Homework questions are available in the student study guide which may be downloaded from the "Related Media" box on the series home page:

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