Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Genesis 46

Genesis 46: Jacob/Israel and his family move to Egypt


There’s not a whole lot to this chapter. Israel brings his family to Egypt, to live with Joseph.

At the beginning of the chapter, Israel offers sacrifices to God, and that night God speaks to him in a vision:

And God spoke to Israel in a vision at night and said, “Jacob! Jacob!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

“I am God, the God of your father,” he said. “Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there. I will go down to Egypt with you, and I will surely bring you back again. And Joseph’s own hand will close your eyes.”

(verses 2–4)

So he left, and brought all of his descendants with him.

Verses 8–27 are simply genealogy, listing all of Israel’s descendants that came with him to Egypt.

When everyone arrives in Egypt, and Joseph finally sees his father, and Jacob/Israel finally sees his son, they are both overjoyed. And then Joseph needs to make preparations for them:

Then Joseph said to his brothers and to his father’s household, “I will go up and speak to Pharaoh and will say to him, ‘My brothers and my father’s household, who were living in the land of Canaan, have come to me. The men are shepherds; they tend livestock, and they have brought along their flocks and herds and everything they own.’ When Pharaoh calls you in and asks, ‘What is your occupation?’ you should answer, ‘Your servants have tended livestock from our boyhood on, just as our fathers did.’ Then you will be allowed to settle in the region of Goshen, for all shepherds are detestable to the Egyptians.” (verses 31–34)


Notice that God tells Joseph not to be afraid to go to Egypt, even though He knows—as most of my readers do—what is going to happen in Egypt: The Israelites will eventually become the Egyptians’ slaves, and God will have to save them, and deliver them out of Egypt. So why shouldn’t Jacob be afraid? Because it’s part of God’s plan. The Hebrews won’t like it, while they’re being enslaved, surely, but God wants to teach them—and us—a lesson about who He is.

I wonder if Goshen was the “best part of Egypt”, as the Pharaoh had promised to Joseph’s family. They seem to be making a point of keeping the Hebrews as separate from everyone else as possible.

In this chapter, it’s shepherds who are “detestable” to the Egyptians; in 43:32, it was Hebrews who were detestable to them. There’s a lot of foreshadowing, in these chapters, that the Hebrews’ lives aren’t going to be completely rosy and “happily ever ever” in Egypt.

Genesis 45—Addendum

I can’t believe that I forgot to mention this, but I completely neglected to mention the most important aspect of Chapter 45.

When Joseph is revealing himself to his brothers, he gives the following speech:

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will not be plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.

So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt. Now hurry back to my father and say to him, ‘This is what your son Joseph says: God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; don’t delay. You shall live in the region of Goshen and be near me—you, your children and grandchildren, your flocks and herds, and all you have. I will provide for you there, because five years of famine are still to come. Otherwise you and your household and all who belong to you will become destitute.’

(verses 4–11, emphasis added)

The reason that I can’t believe I forgot to mention this is that Christians mention this passage of the Bible on a regular basis, because of the line I italicized above: “So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God.” (In fact, Christians quote 50:20 even more often, in which Joseph says “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”)

Not just this speech, but the entire life of Joseph, is a reminder to us all that God is always in control of our lives, and that He has a reason for what He is doing. Joseph was astute enough to realize that.

Was it Joseph’s brothers who sold him into slavery? And was it Potiphar’s wife who accused him of rape, and Potiphar who had him jailed? Was it the cupbearer who promised to tell the Pharaoh about Joseph, and then forgot for two years? “Yes” to all of the above. And all of those people are responsible for their own actions, and will have to answer for them. (Or have already answered for them; my concept of time gets a little fuzzy, when we’re talking about the afterlife…) But in a universe where the LORD is in control, we also have to recognize that people can ultimately only do what He allows them to do.

All of the events of Joseph’s life led up to him saving the Egyptian people, along with the people in neighbouring nations, from starvation, because he was able to predict, and deal with, the famine. And I’m sure this is what Joseph had in mind, when he told his brothers that it was God who sent him to Egypt, not his brothers. In retrospect, we can see that God had even more in store, though: Because He brought Joseph to Egypt, all of the Hebrews eventually ended up there, to be saved by God’s mighty hand in the book of Exodus. God’s saving of the Hebrews from the Egyptians is one of the most important lessons He ever taught them—and us—about Himself.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Genesis 45

Genesis 45: Joseph finally reveals himself to his brothers


We’ve been reading, in the last few chapters, about this strange little play that’s acting out between Joseph and his brothers. He hasn’t told them that it’s him, and they haven’t recognized him, so he’s been messing with their minds a bit. As you might recall, the last chapter ended with Joseph threatening to make Benjamin his slave, and Judah entreating Joseph to take Judah instead, for their father’s sake.

This is too much for Joseph. As this chapter begins, he loses control:

Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and he cried out, “Have everyone leave my presence!” So there was no one with Joseph when he made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard him, and Pharaoh’s household heard about it. (verses 1–2)

He reveals himself to his brothers, and asks if Jacob/Israel is still alive, but the brothers are too terrified even to answer him. So Joseph tries to reassure them:

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will not be plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.

“So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt. Now hurry back to my father and say to him, ‘This is what your son Joseph says: God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; don’t delay. You shall live in the region of Goshen and be near me—you, your children and grandchildren, your flocks and herds, and all you have. I will provide for you there, because five years of famine are still to come. Otherwise you and your household and all who belong to you will become destitute.’

(verses 4–11)

So Joseph and his brothers weep and embrace and kiss and do all of the things that brothers normally do when they’re reunited with the siblings who wanted to kill them, and then sold them into slavery.

When the Pharaoh hears that Joseph’s brothers are in town, he’s overjoyed. He tells Joseph to invite his entire family to come and live in Egypt, and the Pharaoh will give them “the best land of Egypt” so that they can “enjoy the fat of the land” (verse 18).

As the brothers are heading out the door, Joseph can’t resist one final dig:

Then [Joseph] sent his brothers away, and as they were leaving he said to them, “Don’t quarrel on the way!” (verse 24)

So the brothers return home to Jacob/Israel, with all of the gifts the Pharaoh has showered on them, and tell Jacob/Israel that Joseph is still alive. At first, Jacob is “stunned” (verse 26), as anyone else would be, but when they finally convince him, “the spirit of… Jacob revived” (verse 27).

So they decide to go and join their brother/son Joseph, and live in Egypt.


People have sometimes wondered how Joseph’s brothers could not recognize him, and most of the time I’ve heard them theorizing that his appearance was so changed—from living in Egypt and dressing as the Egyptians do—that they didn’t recognize him because of that. But when Joseph is revealing himself to his brothers, he says (in verse 4) “come close to me.” I’m wondering if, because of his status, he was always positioned far away from the “foreigners”, and maybe that might have been a contributing factor to the brothers not recognizing him. I’m not sure if this theory actually holds water; in the last chapter, it mentions that Judah “went up to him” (44:18), and I’m not sure if that implies that he was close to Joseph, or just closer than he had been. In any event, it’s not important.

If this were a movie, instead of a written chapter, there would be ominous music playing at the end, when Jacob/Israel and his sons decide to go and live in Egypt with Joseph. They may be living in the “best land of Egypt” right now, but by the time the book of Exodus roles around, the Egyptians will have tired of the Hebrews.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Genesis 44

Genesis 44: Joseph plays more games with his brothers


Before you read this, if you haven’t already, you should probably read the entries for Genesis 42 and Genesis 43.

At the end of the last chapter, Joseph’s brothers were thoroughly confused. They’d gone back to Egypt, not knowing what to expect, and ended up at a feast. They may not have known what to expect, but I’m sure that a feast wouldn’t have been near the top of their list! But now Joseph decides to play with the brothers’ heads again.

As they are getting ready to return home to Jacob/Israel, Joseph commands his servants to put their silver back in their sacks, along with the food. But, in addition to that, he also commands his servant to put his personal cup in Benjamin’s bag. He lets the brothers get a bit of a head start, and then he commands his servant to go after them, and accuse them of stealing the cup!

So this is what happens. The steward catches up with the brothers, and accuses them of stealing the cup. The brothers are indignant—of course they didn’t steal the cup! So they strike a deal: the steward will look in all of their bags, and if any of the brothers has the cup, that brother will become the steward’s servant. So he looks in the bags, and of course the cup is in Benjamin’s bag, which absolutely floors the brothers. What the heck is going on here?!? So they all head back to Joseph.

Joseph was still in the house when Judah and his brothers came in, and they threw themselves to the ground before him. Joseph said to them, “What is this you have done? Don’t you know that a man like me can find things out by divination?”

“What can we say to my lord?” Judah replied. “What can we say? How can we prove our innocence? God has uncovered your servants’ guilt. We are now my lord’s slaves—we ourselves and the one who was found to have the cup.”

(verses 14–16)

But then—and I have a mix of emotions, ranging from humor to frustration to anger to bewilderment, every time I read this—Joseph tells the brothers he couldn’t possibly be that cruel to them:

But Joseph said, “Far be it from me to do such a thing! Only the man who was found to have the cup will become my slave. The rest of you, go back to your father in peace.” (verse 17)

Judah isn’t giving up, though. He told his father that he would be responsible for Benjamin, and he’s going to do his best to live up to that promise. The chapter ends with Judah entreating Joseph to take Judah as his servant, rather than Benjamin, so that Benjamin can return to his father.


Interestingly, Judah just seems to assume that Benjamin did steal the cup. (After all, how else could it have gotten there?) Either that, or he believes his innocence, but doesn’t believe he’d be able to convince Joseph of Benjamin’s innocence, and simply resigns himself to his fate.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Genesis 43

Genesis 43: The brothers return to Egypt


From the last chapter: Joseph’s brothers have returned to Jacob, with the grain, and instructions to return to Egypt with Benjamin, if they want to see their brother Simeon alive. Jacob, however, would rather count Simeon as another lost son, rather than risk losing Benjamin.

So he doesn’t let his sons return to Egypt. However, the famine hasn’t stopped, so eventually the food they had brought back from Egypt runs out. Jacob tells the brothers to go back to Egypt for more grain, but of course they tell him that they can’t, unless they bring Benjamin with them:

So when they had eaten all the grain they had brought from Egypt, their father said to them, “Go back and buy us a little more food.”

But Judah said to him, “The man warned us solemnly, ‘You will not see my face again unless your brother is with you.’ If you will send our brother along with us, we will go down and buy food for you. But if you will not send him, we will not go down, because the man said to us, ‘You will not see my face again unless your brother is with you.’”

Israel asked, “Why did you bring this trouble on me by telling the man you had another brother?”

They replied, “The man questioned us closely about ourselves and our family. ‘Is your father still living?’ he asked us. ‘Do you have another brother?’ We simply answered his questions. How were we to know he would say, ‘Bring your brother down here’?”

Then Judah said to Israel his father, “Send the boy along with me and we will go at once, so that we and you and our children may live and not die. I myself will guarantee his safety; you can hold me personally responsible for him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him here before you, I will bear the blame before you all my life. As it is, if we had not delayed, we could have gone and returned twice.”

(verses 2–10)

So Jacob/Israel finally agrees, and sends the men on their way. He sends with them twice the amount of silver—for buying new food, as well as covering the silver they were supposed to pay the first time, just in case it was a mistake that they came home with their silver in the bags—and they set off, Benjamin in tow. Jacob also sends with them some local products, from the land; balm and honey, spices and myrrh, pistachio nuts, and almonds (verse 11). This is pretty smart, because the Egyptian is probably getting money from all over the place—lots of countries are going through the same famine—but these gifts would be special, because they would only be available in the land where Jacob and his family are living.

They arrive in Egypt, and present themselves before Joseph, who has them sent to his house, and also has his servants prepare a meal. Before they have their meal, the brothers approach Joseph’s steward, about the silver. They tell him that their silver was still in their bags, when they returned home, and ask him to take the silver they were supposed to pay the first time, along with additional silver for more food. But he tells them not to worry: “‘It’s all right,’ he said. ‘Don’t be afraid. Your God, the God of your father, has given you treasure in your sacks; I received your silver.’ Then he brought Simeon out to them.” (verse 23)

Before the meal is ready, Joseph asks about his father, and the brothers report to him that Jacob/Israel is fine. He also meets Benjamin. Joseph becomes so overcome by emotion that he has to go and find somewhere private to weep.

The meal is prepared, and they sit down to eat, in three groups: Joseph eats by himself, the brothers eat on their own, and everyone else eats in a third group, because “Egyptians could not eat with Hebrews, for that is detestable to Egyptians” (verse 32).


Again, the games are still going on between Joseph and his brothers.

I’m not sure if Joseph’s steward was told to tell the brothers that God put the silver in their sacks, or if he was just embellishing things a bit.

I always wonder, when I read about the Egyptians refusing to eat with the Hebrews, why Joseph ate by himself. Was it because he was in charge, and ate by himself much as a king or a Pharaoh would? Or is is that the Egyptians refuse to eat with him, even though he’s their ruler?

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Genesis 42

Genesis 42: Joseph’s brothers go to Egypt for grain


As we read in the last chapter, there is now famine in Egypt, and the Egyptians have been buying grain back from Joseph. But the famine is not restricted to Egypt; Jacob and his remaining sons are also experiencing it.

So Jacob decides to send his sons to Egypt, to buy some grain.

When Jacob learned that there was grain in Egypt, he said to his sons, “Why do you just keep looking at each other?” He continued, “I have heard that there is grain in Egypt. Go down there and buy some for us, so that we may live and not die.” (verses 1–2)

He doesn’t send all of his sons, though; the older sons go to Egypt, but Jacob keeps Benjamin, his youngest, with him. He has already lost Joseph, and doesn’t want to lose Benjamin too.

So the brothers go to Egypt, where Joseph is now the governor of the land, meaning that he is in charge of selling them the grain. However, although Joseph recognizes his brothers, they don’t recognize him. So what does he do? He plays with them:

As soon as Joseph saw his brothers, he recognized them, but he pretended to be a stranger and spoke harshly to them. “Where do you come from?” he asked.

“From the land of Canaan,” they replied, “to buy food.”

Although Joseph recognized his brothers, they did not recognize him. Then he remembered his dreams about them and said to them, “You are spies! You have come to see where our land is unprotected.”

“No, my lord,” they answered. “Your servants have come to buy food. We are all the sons of one man. Your servants are honest men, not spies.”

“No!” he said to them. “You have come to see where our land is unprotected.”

(verses 7–12)

They try to convince Joseph that they are not spies, but he seemingly won’t listen. Finally, he devises a test for them: They have to return home, and then come back to Egypt, bringing their youngest brother, Benjamin with them. Surely this must seem odd to the brothers, but they don’t know what to do. And their first thought is about their brother Joseph, whom they had sold into slavery:

They said to one another, “Surely we are being punished because of our brother. We saw how distressed he was when he pleaded with us for his life, but we would not listen; that’s why this distress has come upon us.”

Reuben replied, “Didn’t I tell you not to sin against the boy? But you wouldn’t listen! Now we must give an accounting for his blood.” They did not realize that Joseph could understand them, since he was using an interpreter.

(verses 21–23)

Interestingly, although the brothers had simply sold Joseph into slavery, they seem to assume that he’s dead. Or maybe they just never told Reuben the whole story, and he thinks Joseph is dead, just like Jacob does.

Finally, Joseph allows the brothers to return back to their father. He has one of them—Simeon—thrown in jail, as collateral, and tells the rest of them that they must return, with Benjamin, in order to get Simeon back. He then gives them the grain they have purchased and sends them on their way. But he also, unbeknownst to them, returns their silver! He hides it in the bags with the grain.

So by the time the men get home, they’re thoroughly confused. They don’t know why this governor wants them to return with Benjamin, they don’t know where the silver came from, and why it’s in their bags, and they’re not sure if they’ll ever see Simeon again.

Nor surprisingly, Jacob isn’t happy with the situation either:

Their father Jacob said to them, “You have deprived me of my children. Joseph is no more and Simeon is no more, and now you want to take Benjamin. Everything is against me!” (verse 36)

Reuben tries to convince Jacob that they have to go back to Egypt, or they won’t see Simeon again, but Jacob refuses to listen. Reuben even tells Jacob that Jacob can put both of Reuben’s sons to death, if Simeon and Benjamin don’t return, but that doesn’t convince him. (Not surprisingly, in my mind; what kind of satisfaction would that give Jacob, if it came to that? “My sons are dead, I guess I’ll kill my grandsons, too!”)

As the chapter closes, Jacob is still not willing to send his sons back to Egypt.


This story between Joseph and his brothers—starting here and continuing to Genesis 45—is, to me, one of the strangest in the Bible. Not because anything miraculous happens, but simply because of the psychology involved. Why does Joseph play these games with his brothers? Revenge? Is he teaching them a lesson? Is he simply confused, and not sure what to do?

That being said, a possible clue as to the motivations for his actions appears in verse 9: “Then he remembered his dreams about them and said to them, ‘You are spies! You have come to see where our land is unprotected.’” (emphasis added). Remember that Joseph had previously dreamed that his brothers, and even his parents, would one day bow down to him. I find it interesting that he thinks about these dreams, before he puts his brothers through the hoops.

Also, it may be obvious, or it may not, but I’ll mention it anyway: People in Old Testament times often used the title “my lord” as a term of respect. It’s not blasphemous or anything, just an honorific title.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Genesis 41

Genesis 41: The Pharaoh’s dreams get Joseph out of jail—and in charge of the country!


When last we saw Joseph, he was in jail, and had interpreted dreams for the Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker. He predicted that the cupbearer would be restored to his position, but that the baker would be executed—and his interpretations proved correct, because both of those things happened. The cupbearer promised to tell the Pharaoh about Joseph, but promptly forgot all about it.

In this chapter—which takes place two years later!—the Pharaoh has a couple of dreams, and is troubled, because he doesn’t know what they mean. The dreams:

… He was standing by the Nile, when out of the river there came up seven cows, sleek and fat, and they grazed among the reeds. After them, seven other cows, ugly and gaunt, came up out of the Nile and stood beside those on the riverbank. And the cows that were ugly and gaunt ate up the seven sleek, fat cows. Then Pharaoh woke up.

He fell asleep again and had a second dream: Seven heads of grain, healthy and good, were growing on a single stalk. After them, seven other heads of grain sprouted—thin and scorched by the east wind. The thin heads of grain swallowed up the seven healthy, full heads. Then Pharaoh woke up; it had been a dream.

(verses 1–7)

So the Pharaoh brings in all of the magicians and wise men in Egypt, but none of them can interpret the dreams. At this point, the cupbearer [figuratively] slaps his forehead, and remembers about Joseph:

Then the chief cupbearer said to Pharaoh, “Today I am reminded of my shortcomings. Pharaoh was once angry with his servants, and he imprisoned me and the chief baker in the house of the captain of the guard. Each of us had a dream the same night, and each dream had a meaning of its own. Now a young Hebrew was there with us, a servant of the captain of the guard. We told him our dreams, and he interpreted them for us, giving each man the interpretation of his dream. And things turned out exactly as he interpreted them to us: I was restored to my position, and the other man was hanged.” (verses 9–13)

So Joseph is brought out of jail, and—after shaving and changing his clothes—brought before the Pharaoh. The Pharaoh asks him to interpret the dreams, and Joseph tells Pharaoh “I cannot do it, …but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires” (verse 16).

So Pharaoh tells Joseph his dreams. Rather than paraphrasing, I’ll just include Joseph’s answer:

Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, “The dreams of Pharaoh are one and the same. God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do. The seven good cows are seven years, and the seven good heads of grain are seven years; it is one and the same dream. The seven lean, ugly cows that came up afterward are seven years, and so are the seven worthless heads of grain scorched by the east wind: They are seven years of famine.

“It is just as I said to Pharaoh: God has shown Pharaoh what he is about to do. Seven years of great abundance are coming throughout the land of Egypt, but seven years of famine will follow them. Then all the abundance in Egypt will be forgotten, and the famine will ravage the land. The abundance in the land will not be remembered, because the famine that follows it will be so severe. The reason the dream was given to Pharaoh in two forms is that the matter has been firmly decided by God, and God will do it soon.

“And now let Pharaoh look for a discerning and wise man and put him in charge of the land of Egypt. Let Pharaoh appoint commissioners over the land to take a fifth of the harvest of Egypt during the seven years of abundance. They should collect all the food of these good years that are coming and store up the grain under the authority of Pharaoh, to be kept in the cities for food. This food should be held in reserve for the country, to be used during the seven years of famine that will come upon Egypt, so that the country may not be ruined by the famine.”

(verses 25–36)

This sounds like a good idea to Pharaoh and his officials. In fact, it sounds like such a good idea that they decide Joseph is the man for the job:

Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one so discerning and wise as you. You shall be in charge of my palace, and all my people are to submit to your orders. Only with respect to the throne will I be greater than you.” (verses 39–40)

The pattern should be familiar to us, by now: Joseph is put in charge of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh. Just like he was put in charge of the jail, before that, and put in charge of Potiphar’s household before that. Pharaoh also gives Joseph the daughter of one of Egypt’s priests as a wife.

As the LORD had predicted through Joseph’s interpretation of Pharaoh’s dreams, the seven years of abundance come. In each city, Joseph sets up storage facilities, where he stores all of the excess grain. Verse 49 says “Joseph stored up huge quantities of grain, like the sand of the sea; it was so much that he stopped keeping records because it was beyond measure.”

Then, as anticipated, the seven years of abundance come to an end, and a seven year famine starts. When the famine begins, the people start coming to Joseph to buy back the grain he’s been storing.


This is probably common knowledge, but just in case it’s not: the term “Pharaoh” is a title, not a name. It’s like “president” or “king”; the Pharaoh is the ruler of Egypt. It might get a little confusing sometimes, because Pharaohs in the Bible are sometimes referred to as “the Pharaoh”, and other times just as “Pharaoh”. So, in a hundred years or so, when the Bible is still referring to “the Pharaoh”, it won’t be referring to the same man. Just another man in the same position.

Also, as is probably becoming evident, dreams meant much more to people in Joseph’s time than they do today. This explains why the Pharaoh becomes troubled when he has dreams that he’s not able to interpret.

Verse 46 mentions that Joseph is 30 when he is put in charge of Egypt. So by the time he’s 30, he’s been sold into slavery, thrown into jail because of a rape accusation, and then put in charge of all of Egypt. By the time I was 30, I had… um… become a yuppie.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Back from vacation

I was on vacation for a week, which is why I haven’t posted much here lately. But I’m back now, so hopefully I’ll get back to a regular schedule of posting every weekday.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Genesis 40

Genesis 40: Joseph the dream interpreter


In Genesis 39, you may recall, Joseph was thrown in jail, because he’d been accused by Potiphar’s wife of trying to rape her. However, because the LORD was with him, he won favour with the jailkeeper, and ended up helping to run the jail.

At the beginning of this chapter, the Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker offend him, and end up getting thrown in the same jail where Joseph is located. One night they each have dreams, and when Joseph comes in the next morning, finds them dejected, because they aren’t able to interpret them. So Joseph replies “Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell me your dreams.” (verse 8)

So they tell Joseph their dreams, and he interprets them for them. His interpretations are that, within three days, the Pharaoh will restore the cupbearer to his position, whereas he will have the baker executed. He also asks the cupbearer to remember him, when he is restored to his position; because Joseph has not actually done anything to get himself thrown in jail. Ie is hoping the Pharaoh will have him released.

Of course, Joseph’s interpretations come true. In three days, the baker is executed, and the cupbearer is restored to his position. Unfortunately, when the cupbearer is restored to his position, he forgets about Joseph.


By this time, it’s getting pretty clear that Joseph has a pretty hard life. He’s been sold into slavery by his brothers, then been accused of rape and thrown into jail, and finally has a chance to get out of jail, only to have it ruined by his cupbearer’s faulty memory.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Genesis 39

Genesis 39: Joseph and Potiphar’s wife


This is a pretty famous story. At least, in Christian circles. If you don’t go to church, or hang around with Christians, maybe you won’t have heard it before.

As you may recall from Chapter 37, Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, and he was bought by an Egyptian named Potiphar. In this chapter, we find out that Joseph did pretty well for Potiphar. In fact, the LORD so blessed Potiphar under Joseph’s care that Potiphar put his entire household under Joseph. Verse 6 says that Joseph was doing such a good job running the household that Potiphar didn’t concern himself with anything but the food he ate.

But Joseph wasn’t just good at running a household. He was also “well-built and handsome” (verse 6), and soon Potiphar’s wife began to take notice of him. She tried to get Joseph to go to bed with her, but he refused.

… “With me in charge,” he told her, “my master does not concern himself with anything in the house; everything he owns he has entrusted to my care. No one is greater in this house than I am. My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” And though she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her or even be with her. (verses 8–10)

But this didn’t deter Potiphar’s wife. One day he got caught in the house when there was nobody there but him and her; she caught him by the cloak, and tried to get him to go to bed with her, but he ran out of the house, leaving the cloak in her hands.

I guess this was the breaking point for Potiphar’s wife. When Potiphar came back, she showed him the cloak, and told him that Joseph had tried to rape her. She said that when she screamed for help, he panicked and ran off, leaving his cloak. (For some reason, she tells this story to the other servants, first, before Potiphar gets home. I guess to practice.) When Potiphar heard this, he “burned with anger” (verse 19), and had Joseph thrown into prison.

And this is the part that I found the funniest: When Joseph gets thrown into prison, the warden looks kindly on him, and puts him in charge of the prison. He does such a good job that the warden “paid no attention to anything under Joseph’s care” (verse 23).


Joseph is my kind of guy: always trying to do the right thing, even if he gets in trouble for it. He could have probably slept with Potiphar’s wife and gotten away with it, and saved himself a lot to trouble, to boot. But he did the right thing, and took the consequences for it.

Notice that, when Joseph is turning down Potiphar’s wife, he says “How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” (emphasis added) It wasn’t even Potiphar that Joseph was worried about, it was the LORD.

And, speaking of the LORD, I should point out something: the Bible makes clear that Joseph didn’t succeed just because he was good at running things; he succeeded because the LORD gave him success. It’s mentioned numerous times:
  • verse 2: The LORD was with Joseph and he prospered…
  • verse 3: …the LORD was with him and … gave him success in everything he did…
  • verse 5: …the LORD blessed the household of the Egyptian because of Joseph. The blessing of the LORD was on everything Potiphar had, both in the house and in the field.
  • verse 21: …the LORD was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden.
  • verse 23: …the LORD was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did.