Genesis 37-50: Story Of Joseph

Joseph is Jacob's favorite son. His brothers sell him to the Ishmaelites who sell him to an Egyptian eunuch. Joseph becomes successful in Egypt and manages to settle all of Israel there.

The Story of Joseph

Genesis 37-50

Jacob had 12 sons; the twelve tribes of Israel stem from his offspring. Rachel, the wife he loved, gave Jacob a son in his old age named Joseph. Genesis is very clear on how Jacob felt about Joseph: "Now Israel (Jacob) loved Joseph more than any other of his sons, because he was a child of his old age"¦" (Gen.37: 3). In the tale of Joseph we get the first actual narration which seems to come from one unbroken source and is not a collection of oral traditions patched together.

Joseph's brothers were jealous of him because he was the favorite son. He also seemed to be a bit of a tattletale and a spoiled brat. Genesis 37 opens by relating that Joseph accompanied two of his brothers to go out and tend the flock. Joseph gave his father a bad report concerning the brothers. We aren't told exactly which brothers they were except that they were the sons of Billhah and Zilpah, the handmaids of Rachel and Leah. I think the verses are there just to let us know what is going on and set us up for what's going to happen later.

Jacob made a beautiful coat for Joseph "a tunic of many colors" (Gen.37: 3 NKJV). When the brothers saw the coat "they hated him and could not say a kind word to him." (Gen.37: 4) So, in just three verses the picture is painted. Joseph is dad's favorite and all the other sons hate him for it. Some of the feelings are justified because Joseph is also portrayed as somewhat spoiled.

The way Joseph feels is revealed as he relates two of his dreams to his brothers. In the first dream he recounts how he and his brothers were binding sheaves of wheat and while Joseph's sheaf stood tall, the brothers' sheaves bowed down to it. In the other dream, the "sun and moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me" (Gen.37: 9) These dreams were prophetic but no one knew it at the time. The brothers were insulted and Jacob was upset.

All of the brothers except Joseph are tending the flocks and Jacob sends Joseph out to find them and report back how they are doing. The eleven see Joseph coming and begin plotting how they might get rid of him, so deep is their hatred and jealousy. They plan to kill him and throw him into a pit and say that wild animals devoured him. Reuben, the firstborn, urges his brothers not to kill Joseph. Judah comes up with the idea of selling Joseph to a passing Ishmaelite caravan for twenty pieces of silver. Joseph is removed from the pit and sold. Reuben is distraught because he will have to explain this to his father.

The brothers keep Joseph's coat of many colors, kill a goat, and dip the coat in the goat's blood. They then explain to Jacob how they found the bloodied and torn coat and ask him if he recognizes it. Meanwhile, the Ishmaelites (or Midianites) travel to Egypt and sell Joseph to the household of Potiphar "one of Pharaoh's eunuchs, the captain of the guard." (Gen.37: 36) The Lord was with Joseph and he prospered. (Gen.39: 2) Eventually, "thus Joseph found favor with his master, and he became his personal servant. Indeed, his master put him in charge of his household and entrusted him with all that he had." (Gen. 39: 4)

Even though Potiphar was a Eunuch, he had a wife. The wife kept trying to lure Joseph to bed. Joseph was an honorable man and did not betray his master. Potiphar's wife tries one last time to get Joseph to bed by grabbing his cloak; he runs away, leaving his cloak in her hands. She falsely accuses Joseph of trying to sleep with her and Joseph is thrown in prison. Even in prison "The Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in everything." (Gen.39: 23) Joseph became a supervisor of other prisoners.

While in the prison, the pharaoh's butler and baker offended the king and they were thrown in jail. Joseph was responsible for them and helped them to interpret their dreams. The baker was hanged and the butler got his job back, just as in the interpretation that Joseph had given them. The butler forgot all about Joseph until about two years later.

Pharaoh had dreamed and no one in his court could interpret the dream. Then the butler remembered Joseph's interpretations in jail and informed the Pharaoh who summoned Joseph. Joseph interpreted the dream as a vision of the future where there would be seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine. Joseph recommended that Pharaoh put someone in charge of food management. Joseph got the job. Joseph became second only to Pharaoh as he began laying aside crops for the famine.

When the famine came "the whole world came to Egypt to buy corn from Joseph"¦" (Gen.41: 57) Eventually Joseph's brothers come to buy corn too. They do not recognize Joseph and he makes them go back to Israel to get their brother Benjamin, Joseph's closest brother, also born of Rachel. After an emotional meeting Joseph reveals his identity and there is a tearful reunion.

The sons return to Israel to get Jacob. After Jacob meets Pharaoh, the land in the area of Rameses is given to the Hebrews. Joseph continued to monitor the food during the famine. After the famine "Israel settled in Egypt, in Goshen; there they acquired land, and were fruitful and increased greatly." (Gen.47: 27) This was how the Jews came to be in Egypt until Moses would lead them out hundreds of years later.

The New English Bible, British and Foreign Bible Society, 1972

Except: NKJV, New King James Bible, Thomas Nelson, 1982

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