Genesis 37-50: Joseph

By James M. Rochford

Unless otherwise stated, all citations are taken from the New International Version (NIV).

Genesis 37 (Joseph is betrayed)

(Gen. 37-50) Is the story of Joseph a myth?

(Gen. 37-50) What are the parallels between Joseph and Jesus? Does this story prefigure Jesus?

(37:1) Jacob lived in the land where his father had stayed, the land of Canaan.

Jacob never saw his brother Esau again. Esau moved his family far away from Canaan (Gen. 36:6).

(37:2) This is the account of Jacob’s family line. Joseph, a young man of seventeen, was tending the flocks with his brothers, the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives, and he brought their father a bad report about them.

“[Joseph] brought their father a bad report about his [brothers].” Joseph is 17 years old when the story begins, and the story begins with him tattling on his brothers.

(37:3) Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age; and he made an ornate robe for him.

“Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons.” Jacob (Israel) grew up in a house just like this. His father loved Esau more than Jacob, and his mother loved Jacob more than Esau. Jacob learned this poisonous parenting style from his family of origin, and now, he was passing it down to his children.

Furthermore, Jacob favored his wives in this exact same way, and this led to incredible discord in his family (Gen. 29:30).

“Ornate robe.” Jacob (Israel) gives him an “ornate robe” or a “full-length robe,” which was probably a sign of royalty. The term is only ever used in 2 Samuel 13:18-19. It’s very destructive to openly show favoritism like this. Of course, Joseph’s brothers are responsible for their choices, but this doesn’t justify Jacob’s poor parenting.

Is this a multicolored coat? Not likely. The notion of a multicolored coat comes from later translations of the Hebrew text such as the Septuagint (chitona poikilon), the Palestinian Targum (pargod mesuyayr), and the Latin Vulgate (tunicam polymitam).[1]

(37:4) When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.

This is the result of parental favoritism: hatred and bitterness in the household.

(37:5-9) Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more. 6 He said to them, “Listen to this dream I had: 7 We were binding sheaves of grain out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered around mine and bowed down to it.

8 His brothers said to him, “Do you intend to reign over us? Will you actually rule us?” And they hated him all the more because of his dream and what he had said.

9 Then he had another dream, and he told it to his brothers. “Listen,” he said, “I had another dream, and this time the sun and moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.”

Joseph has two dreams: (1) the brothers’ sheaves of grain bowed down to his sheaf and (2) the eleven stars (i.e. brothers) bowed down to him. Of course, these prophetic dreams explain how Joseph would eventually rise to prominence in his family (Gen. 42:6, 9).

But why did Joseph choose to share these dreams with his brothers? Could he really be that naïve about how this would infuriate his brothers? Was he sharing this to intentionally boast to his brothers? The text doesn’t tell us Joseph’s motivations. But we do know that this decision was either extremely foolish at best or sinful at worst.

(37:10-11) When he told his father as well as his brothers, his father rebuked him and said, “What is this dream you had? Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow down to the ground before you?” 11 His brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind.

“His father kept the matter in mind.” Jacob had seen God move supernaturally before, so he was probably wondering what to make of these dreams.

(37:12-14) Now his brothers had gone to graze their father’s flocks near Shechem, 13 and Israel said to Joseph, “As you know, your brothers are grazing the flocks near Shechem. Come, I am going to send you to them.”

“Very well,” he replied. 14 So he said to him, “Go and see if all is well with your brothers and with the flocks, and bring word back to me.” Then he sent him off from the Valley of Hebron.

Shechem is 50 miles from Hebron, so it would be a long way from home. With all of this family hatred, bitterness, and jealousy, why did Jacob send Joseph into this situation unsupervised?

(37:15-17) When Joseph arrived at Shechem, 15 a man found him wandering around in the fields and asked him, “What are you looking for?”

16 He replied, “I’m looking for my brothers. Can you tell me where they are grazing their flocks?”

17 “They have moved on from here,” the man answered. “I heard them say, ‘Let’s go to Dothan.’” So Joseph went after his brothers and found them near Dothan.

Joseph was safer with a stranger, than he was with his brothers. This really speaks to how dysfunctional this family was.

(37:18-20) But they saw him in the distance, and before he reached them, they plotted to kill him. 19 “Here comes that dreamer!” they said to each other. 20 “Come now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him. Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams.”

The brothers were still bitter about the dreams, mentioning them twice as they plot against him (v.19-20). They were also bitter about the ornate tunic Joseph wore (v.23).

“We’ll see what comes of his dreams.” There is tremendous irony in the fact that the brothers were helping to fulfil Joseph’s prophetic dreams through their actions. Later, Joseph said, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Gen. 50:20). Sailhamer writes, “Behind their plans lie Joseph’s two dreams. Little did they suspect that the very plans that they were then scheming were to lead to the fulfillment of those dreams.”[2]

(37:21-22) When Reuben heard this, he tried to rescue him from their hands. “Let’s not take his life,” he said. 22 “Don’t shed any blood. Throw him into this cistern here in the wilderness, but don’t lay a hand on him.” Reuben said this to rescue him from them and take him back to his father.

Reuben (the oldest) spares Joseph. He was trying to protect him in the well, so that he could return him to Jacob. But his plan is a failure (v.29).

(37:23-27) So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe—the ornate robe he was wearing—24 and they took him and threw him into the cistern. The cistern was empty; there was no water in it. 25 As they sat down to eat their meal, they looked up and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead. Their camels were loaded with spices, balm and myrrh, and they were on their way to take them down to Egypt. 26 Judah said to his brothers, “What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? 27 Come, let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him; after all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood.” His brothers agreed.

The actions of the brothers were sinister. For one, the well was empty (v.24). That means that Joseph would slowly die of dehydration.

Second, the fact that the cistern was empty means that Joseph had nothing to cushion his fall. The depth of the well is unknown, but it must’ve at least have been deep enough that he couldn’t climb out.

Third, the brothers sat at the top of the well and ate a casual meal as Joseph pled for mercy (v.25). Indeed, later in the narrative, the brothers admit that Joseph was crying to them. They said, “[Joseph] pleaded with us for his life, but we would not listen” (Gen. 42:21).

Fourth, they steal the “ornate robe” from Joseph (v.23). This would be emotionally harmful to have such a costly and sentimental gift stolen from you.

Fifth, they sell Joseph into slavery (v.26).

(37:28) So when the Midianite merchants came by, his brothers pulled Joseph up out of the cistern and sold him for twenty shekels of silver to the Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt.

“Sold him for twenty shekels of silver.” This supports the historicity of this account. Joseph was sold for the correct price of a slave in the first half of the second millennium BC (~2,000 to 1,500 BC). The other periods do not have this price for a slave. Egyptologist James Hoffmeier writes, “When Joseph was sold to the traders, the cost is specified as twenty shekels of silver (Gen. 37:28). The shekel was a weight, not a coin, in the second millennium BC. Twenty shekels would have been around 9 ounces (260 g). As it turns out, this is the average price of a slave during the first half of the second millennium BC. In the second half of that millennium, the cost went up to thirty shekels, and in the early first millennium it shot up to fifty shekels.”[3] This means that the author of this text knew the price of a slave during this time—even adjusting for inflation!

(37:29-30) When Reuben returned to the cistern and saw that Joseph was not there, he tore his clothes. 30 He went back to his brothers and said, “The boy isn’t there! Where can I turn now?”

Reuben turns out to be a failure. He should have stood up to his brothers, as the oldest in the group. But he let Judah be the de facto leader. He hoped to return Joseph to his father, and his father would be the one to deal with his brothers.

(37:31) Then they got Joseph’s robe, slaughtered a goat and dipped the robe in the blood.

The brothers concoct a plot to make it look like Joseph was mauled to death. They dip the tunic in goat blood, and they give it to Jacob. Remember, this is before DNA testing and CSI!

(37:32-36) They took the ornate robe back to their father and said, “We found this. Examine it to see whether it is your son’s robe.”

33 He recognized it and said, “It is my son’s robe! Some ferocious animal has devoured him. Joseph has surely been torn to pieces.” 34 Then Jacob tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and mourned for his son many days. 35 All his sons and daughters came to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. “No,” he said, “I will continue to mourn until I join my son in the grave.” So his father wept for him. 36 Meanwhile, the Midianites sold Joseph in Egypt to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard.

Jacob couldn’t be comforted. The grief was just too heavy to carry. He thought that the only hope was in his own death. This was a dark time for Jacob.

Meanwhile, Joseph was sold to slavery in Egypt. Jacob—the deceiver—is now being deceived.

Questions for Reflection

List the different factors that made Jacob’s family dysfunctional. What did each member of the family contribute?

Genesis 38 (Judah’s three sons)

(38:1-5) At that time, Judah left his brothers and went down to stay with a man of Adullam named Hirah. 2 There Judah met the daughter of a Canaanite man named Shua. He married her and made love to her; 3 she became pregnant and gave birth to a son, who was named Er. 4 She conceived again and gave birth to a son and named him Onan. 5 She gave birth to still another son and named him Shelah. It was at Kezib that she gave birth to him.

Judah is on his way to becoming a carnal leader. In the previous chapter, he showed leadership among his brothers, but only to sell Joseph into slavery. In this chapter, he leaves his brothers to find a Canaanite wife, and she gives him three sons: Er, Onan, and Shelah.

(38:6-7) Judah got a wife for Er, his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. 7 But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the LORD’s sight; so the LORD put him to death.

“The LORD put [Er] to death.” God took the life of Judah’s firstborn son. The text doesn’t tell us what was so bad about Er. However, it must’ve been serious enough to take his life. After all, Er’s father Judah was guilty of betraying Joseph, selling him into slavery, and lying to his grieving father. Er must have been even worse than his dad.

(38:8-10) Then Judah said to Onan, “Sleep with your brother’s wife and fulfill your duty to her as a brother-in-law to raise up offspring for your brother.” 9 But Onan knew that the child would not be his; so whenever he slept with his brother’s wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from providing offspring for his brother. 10 What he did was wicked in the LORD’s sight; so the LORD put him to death also.

Sleep with your brother’s wife.” This refers to a levirate marriage. If a woman was widowed without a son, the brother of the deceased husband would sleep with her to give her kids. Deuteronomy states, “If two brothers are living together on the same property and one of them dies without a son, his widow may not be married to anyone from outside the family. Instead, her husband’s brother should marry her and have intercourse with her to fulfill the duties of a brother-in-law. 6 The first son she bears to him will be considered the son of the dead brother, so that his name will not be forgotten in Israel” (Deut. 25:5-6 NLT; cf. Ruth 4:5, 10, 17). To be clear, the purpose of having sex with the widow was to give her a son to take care of her.

“[Onan] spilled his semen on the ground.” Onan wasn’t sleeping with Tamar to give her a son. He was just having sex with her to take advantage of her. He pulled out each time so that he could keep having sex with her. Onan was using the law of Levirate marriage to sleep with his sister-in-law, but he had no intention of getting her pregnant. He just wanted to use her for sex.

“The LORD put him to death also.” It is a pretty serious offense to take advantage of a grieving widow in this way, and to use the law to justify it. It’s no wonder that God took this man’s life.

Does this passage teach that masturbation is a serious sin? Incidentally, the title “Onanite” became synonymous in fundamentalist churches with someone who masturbates. Consequently, masturbation was seen as a serious sin—at least serious enough to warrant death. However, the reason God judged Onan is explicitly stated in the text: “To keep from providing offspring for his brother.” He was using Tamar for sex. To be consistent, fundamentalist interpreters would need to see pulling out as just as morally condemnable as masturbation. (For more on the subject, see “Biblical Ethics of Masturbation”).

(38:11) Judah then said to his daughter-in-law Tamar, “Live as a widow in your father’s household until my son Shelah grows up.” For he thought, “He may die too, just like his brothers.” So Tamar went to live in her father’s household.

After the death of Judah’s wife, Tamar realizes that Judah really has no intention of giving her his final son, Shelah, in a Levirate marriage. So, Tamar concocted a plan to get Judah to impregnate her. She pretended to be a prostitute, and slept with Judah.

(38:12-15) After a long time Judah’s wife, the daughter of Shua, died. When Judah had recovered from his grief, he went up to Timnah, to the men who were shearing his sheep, and his friend Hirah the Adullamite went with him.

13 When Tamar was told, “Your father-in-law is on his way to Timnah to shear his sheep,” 14 she took off her widow’s clothes, covered herself with a veil to disguise herself, and then sat down at the entrance to Enaim, which is on the road to Timnah. For she saw that, though Shelah had now grown up, she had not been given to him as his wife. 15 When Judah saw her, he thought she was a prostitute, for she had covered her face.

This whole scene is so twisted and bizarre. It seems that Judah has no intention of giving his final son Shelah to Tamar in a Levirate marriage. Judah is seeking out a prostitute. Tamar is disguising herself as a prostitute to seduce her father-in-law in order to have a son.

(38:16-23) Not realizing that she was his daughter-in-law, he went over to her by the roadside and said, “Come now, let me sleep with you.”

“And what will you give me to sleep with you?” she asked.

17 “I’ll send you a young goat from my flock,” he said.

“Will you give me something as a pledge until you send it?” she asked.

18 He said, “What pledge should I give you?”

“Your seal and its cord, and the staff in your hand,” she answered.

So he gave them to her and slept with her, and she became pregnant by him. 19 After she left, she took off her veil and put on her widow’s clothes again. 20 Meanwhile Judah sent the young goat by his friend the Adullamite in order to get his pledge back from the woman, but he did not find her. 21 He asked the men who lived there, “Where is the shrine prostitute who was beside the road at Enaim?”

“There hasn’t been any shrine prostitute here,” they said. 22 So he went back to Judah and said, “I didn’t find her. Besides, the men who lived there said, ‘There hasn’t been any shrine prostitute here.’”

23 Then Judah said, “Let her keep what she has, or we will become a laughingstock. After all, I did send her this young goat, but you didn’t find her.”

Judah is beginning to realize that something is drastically wrong. No one knows of a shrine prostitute in town, and this woman has his staff.

(38:24-26) About three months later Judah was told, “Your daughter-in-law Tamar is guilty of prostitution, and as a result she is now pregnant.”

Judah said, “Bring her out and have her burned to death!”

25 As she was being brought out, she sent a message to her father-in-law. “I am pregnant by the man who owns these,” she said. And she added, “See if you recognize whose seal and cord and staff these are.”

26 Judah recognized them and said, “She is more righteous than I, since I wouldn’t give her to my son Shelah.” And he did not sleep with her again.

Judah’s men tell him that Tamar prostituted herself to become pregnant. Judah wants to burn her alive for her sin of prostitution. This is incredibly hypocritical because his sons had been functionally treating her like a prostitute for many years, and Judah was holding back Shelah from ever helping Tamar.

Tamar shows Judah the signet ring and staff that he gave her when he slept with her. Judah realizes what happened, and also realizes that he sinned against her by not giving her his third son, Shelah.

(38:27-30) When the time came for her to give birth, there were twin boys in her womb. 28 As she was giving birth, one of them put out his hand; so the midwife took a scarlet thread and tied it on his wrist and said, “This one came out first.”

29 But when he drew back his hand, his brother came out, and she said, “So this is how you have broken out!” And he was named Perez. 30 Then his brother, who had the scarlet thread on his wrist, came out. And he was named Zerah.

Tamar gives birth to twins: Perez and Zerah.

Questions for Reflection

In what ways was Tamar mistreated in this narrative?

What is the purpose of this narrative? Why does Moses begin writing about Joseph only to get derailed on this slimy story about Judah’s wretch sons?

  • Moses must’ve been offering the contrast between trusting God and refusing to trust God. Jacob’s sons paid the price for their lack of trust in God. Moreover, Joseph had the opportunity to sleep with Potiphar’s wife, but he chose not to. Judah (and his sons) had their choice of eligible women, but chose Canaanites instead.
  • Moses was also showing that the “seed” of Judah was continued through a “righteous” woman like Tamar (v.26). Sailhamer writes, “It is the woman Tamar, not Judah the patriarch, who is ultimately responsible for the survival of the descendants of the house of Judah… in the end, the continuation of the line of Judah was not due to the righteous actions of the patriarch Judah but rather lay in the hands of the ‘righteous’ Tamar.”[4]

Genesis 39 (Potiphar’s wife tries to seduce Joseph)

(39:1-5) Now Joseph had been taken down to Egypt. Potiphar, an Egyptian who was one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had taken him there. 2 The LORD was with Joseph so that he prospered, and he lived in the house of his Egyptian master. 3 When his master saw that the LORD was with him and that the LORD gave him success in everything he did, 4 Joseph found favor in his eyes and became his attendant. Potiphar put him in charge of his household, and he entrusted to his care everything he owned. 5 From the time he put him in charge of his household and of all that he owned, 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.

“The LORD was with Joseph.” Everyone in Joseph’s family had abandoned him or given up on him. They either wanted him dead, or they thought he was dead. But God was with Joseph. Joseph lacked the approval of people—even his own family—but he had the approval of God.

“Put him in charge of his household.” This expression was used in ancient Egyptian (Gen. 39:4).[5] This supports the view that the author (Moses) had a knowledge of the Egyptian language and hierarchy.

(39:6-12) So Potiphar left everything he had in Joseph’s care. With Joseph in charge, he did not concern himself with anything except the food he ate.

Now Joseph was well-built and handsome, 7 and after a while his master’s wife took notice of Joseph and said, “Come to bed with me!”

8 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. 9 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?”

10 And though she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her or even be with her. 11 One day he went into the house to attend to his duties, and none of the household servants was inside. 12 She caught him by his cloak and said, “Come to bed with me!” But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house.

What would’ve made this sexual temptation difficult for Joseph? For one, he was a good looking, well-built man (v.6). Joseph must’ve thought, “Oh God! Why couldn’t you have made me ugly? If you had, I wouldn’t have all of this temptation in my life!”

Second, Potiphar’s wife was repeatedly trying to seduce Joseph. It would be one thing if she made an advance and Joseph turned her down. But she was speaking to him “day after day.”

Third, Potiphar’s wife was in a position of power. Joseph later had to pay the price for refusing to sleep with her, going to prison for 14 years.

Fourth, Joseph could’ve made a number of excuses for his circumstances. He could’ve thought, “I come from a dysfunctional family” or “My dad and brothers slept around” or “I’m 18 years old, and my hormones are raging!” or “What has God done for me lately?”

How did Joseph successfully overcome this sexual temptation? For one, Joseph called this what it is: sin. He called this act a “wicked thing” and a “sin against God.”

Second, Joseph reflected on how this affair would harm Potiphar (vv.8-9).

Third, Joseph reflected on what a great life he had. He said, “No one is greater in this house than I am. My master has withheld nothing from me.” It would be insane to ruin his life in order to have an affair with this woman.

Fourth, Joseph fled from this woman. At first, he refused to be alone with her (v.10), and eventually, he ran away from her (1 Cor. 6:18; 2 Tim. 2:22).

(39:13-15) When she saw that he had left his cloak in her hand and had run out of the house, 14 she called her household servants. “Look,” she said to them, “this Hebrew has been brought to us to make sport of us! He came in here to sleep with me, but I screamed. 15 When he heard me scream for help, he left his cloak beside me and ran out of the house.”

“Make sport” is an accusation of rape.

(39:16-20) She kept his cloak beside her until his master came home. 17 Then she told him this story: “That Hebrew slave you brought us came to me to make sport of me. 18 But as soon as I screamed for help, he left his cloak beside me and ran out of the house.”

19 When his master heard the story his wife told him, saying, “This is how your slave treated me,” he burned with anger. 20 Joseph’s master took him and put him in prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined.

Joseph did the right thing, and he was punished for it. Potiphar’s wife accused him of rape, and Joseph went to prison. What a terrible end to the story, right?

(39:21-23) But while Joseph was there in the prison, 21 the LORD was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden. 22 So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there. 23 The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph’s care, because the LORD was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did.

Joseph continued to lack the approval of people—even powerful people like Potiphar. However, God was with him. Just as he rose up in Potiphar’s house, he rose up in the prison system, too.

This is a foretaste of what Joseph will fully realize at the end of the account: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Gen. 50:20). Sailhamer comments, “The epilogue to the story is clear in its emphasis. God has turned an intended evil against Joseph into a good… Joseph suffered for doing what was right, but God turned the evil done to him into a blessing.”[6]

Questions for Reflection

Read verses 6-13. What would’ve made this sexual temptation difficult for Joseph? How did Joseph successfully overcome this sexual temptation?

Some interpreters think that Potiphar was burning with anger because he knew his wife was lying. After all, if Potiphar thought that Joseph tried to rape his wife, he would’ve had him killed—not thrown in prison. Does this interpretation have any merit? Do you agree with this interpretation?

This chapter shows how Joseph rose to the top in two bad circumstances. What was the key to his success in both circumstances?

Genesis 40 (Joseph with the Cupbearer and Baker)

(40:1-4) Some time later, the cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt offended their master, the king of Egypt. 2 Pharaoh was angry with his two officials, the chief cupbearer and the chief baker, 3 and put them in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, in the same prison where Joseph was confined. 4 The captain of the guard assigned them to Joseph, and he attended them.

“Some time later.” How much time has passed? The text doesn’t say. But Joseph has lived in this prison long enough to rise to the top of the prisoners in order to oversee this prison.

Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker offended him, and they were thrown in prison with Joseph. What did they do to offend Pharaoh? The text doesn’t say. But they become integral to God’s plan in Joseph’s life.

(40:5-8) After they had been in custody for some time, 5 each of the two men—the cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt, who were being held in prison—had a dream the same night, and each dream had a meaning of its own.

6 When Joseph came to them the next morning, he saw that they were dejected. 7 So he asked Pharaoh’s officials who were in custody with him in his master’s house, “Why do you look so sad today?”

8 “We both had dreams,” they answered, “but there is no one to interpret them.”

Then Joseph said to them, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell me your dreams.”

As a young man, Joseph had two dreams. These dreams predicted that his family would bow down to him (Gen. 37:5-11). But that must’ve seemed very remote at this point in his life. Perhaps he even forgot about those dreams. Yet when the cupbearer and baker both had their dreams, this got Joseph’s attention. He thought God might be speaking through these dreams.

(40:9-15) So the chief cupbearer told Joseph his dream. He said to him, “In my dream I saw a vine in front of me, 10 and on the vine were three branches. As soon as it budded, it blossomed, and its clusters ripened into grapes. 11 Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand, and I took the grapes, squeezed them into Pharaoh’s cup and put the cup in his hand.”

12 “This is what it means,” Joseph said to him. “The three branches are three days. 13 Within three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your position, and you will put Pharaoh’s cup in his hand, just as you used to do when you were his cupbearer. 14 But when all goes well with you, remember me and show me kindness. Mention me to Pharaoh and get me out of this prison. 15 I was forcibly carried off from the land of the Hebrews, and even here I have done nothing to deserve being put in a dungeon.”

The cupbearer had a dream of three vines producing wine for the Pharaoh. Joseph interpreted this to mean that in three days the Pharaoh would rescind his decision and bring the cupbearer back into service in his court. (This is Joseph’s ticket out of prison, right?)

(40:16-19) When the chief baker saw that Joseph had given a favorable interpretation, he said to Joseph, “I too had a dream: On my head were three baskets of bread. 17 In the top basket were all kinds of baked goods for Pharaoh, but the birds were eating them out of the basket on my head.”

18 “This is what it means,” Joseph said. “The three baskets are three days. 19 Within three days Pharaoh will lift off your head and impale your body on a pole. And the birds will eat away your flesh.”

The baker had a dream as well. The interpretation was just as accurate, but not as favorable. His head would be lifted up like the cupbearer, but it would be lifted off his neck! In three days, Pharaoh would decapitate the man, impale him on a pole, and birds would pluck the flesh off his corpse.

(40:20-22) Now the third day was Pharaoh’s birthday, and he gave a feast for all his officials. He lifted up the heads of the chief cupbearer and the chief baker in the presence of his officials: 21 He restored the chief cupbearer to his position, so that he once again put the cup into Pharaoh’s hand—22 but he impaled the chief baker, just as Joseph had said to them in his interpretation.

All of this came to fruition exactly as Joseph predicted. This must mean that Joseph would get out of prison, right?

(40:23) The chief cupbearer, however, did not remember Joseph. He forgot him.

Imagine being Joseph in that prison. Each day, you would be waiting for the metal doors to open and to be released. After all, God had presumably sent these dreams to these two men, and he gave Joseph a perfect interpretation of both. But days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months and months turned into years. No one came to unlock the doors of the prison. No one came to release Joseph.

Questions for Reflection

Why would God move so supernaturally through this dream only to let Joseph rot in the prison?

  • God was testing Joseph’s character during this time. It must’ve agonized Joseph to wait in a prison after being incarcerated unjustly. But God was working on Joseph’s character during this time. The psalmist writes, “Joseph was sold as a slave. They bruised his feet with fetters and placed his neck in an iron collar. Until the time came to fulfill his dreams, the LORD tested Joseph’s character” (Ps. 105:17-19 NLT). We typically don’t think that character development is such a precious commodity. After all, would you rather have freedom from prison or character development? But from God views our character as immensely important.
  • God’s supernatural signs need to be interpreted. If we see a miracle, what does this mean? When God moves supernaturally, this is a sign to us. But this isn’t always clear exactly how he’s going to work. Joseph thought that this answer to prayer meant that he would be taken out of prison immediately, but God had different plans. In fact, he rots in prison for another two years (41:1).
  • Joseph has a good attitude in his suffering. In the midst of explaining the dreams, he didn’t take credit. Instead, he attributed the interpretation of the dream to God (v.8).

Genesis 41 (Pharaoh’s Dream)

(41:1-4) When two full years had passed, Pharaoh had a dream: He was standing by the Nile, 2 when out of the river there came up seven cows, sleek and fat, and they grazed among the reeds. 3 After them, seven other cows, ugly and gaunt, came up out of the Nile and stood beside those on the riverbank. 4 And the cows that were ugly and gaunt ate up the seven sleek, fat cows. Then Pharaoh woke up.

“Two full years had passed.” Joseph languished in prison for two years of his life! Imagine the agony of waiting for the cupbearer to mention something to Pharaoh, only to continue to rot in Egyptian prison.

“Pharaoh had a dream.” This is Joseph’s way out of the prison. God must’ve sent Pharaoh this dream to expedite Joseph’s release.

(41:5-7) He fell asleep again and had a second dream: Seven heads of grain, healthy and good, were growing on a single stalk. 6 After them, seven other heads of grain sprouted—thin and scorched by the east wind. 7 The thin heads of grain swallowed up the seven healthy, full heads. Then Pharaoh woke up; it had been a dream.

Pharaoh had two dreams. In both, seven healthy things were replaced by seven shriveled things (e.g. cows, stalks of grain), and the healthy things were consumed by the shriveled things. But what does this mean?

(41:8-13) In the morning his mind was troubled, so he sent for all the magicians and wise men of Egypt. Pharaoh told them his dreams, but no one could interpret them for him.

9 Then the chief cupbearer said to Pharaoh, “Today I am reminded of my shortcomings. 10 Pharaoh was once angry with his servants, and he imprisoned me and the chief baker in the house of the captain of the guard. 11 Each of us had a dream the same night, and each dream had a meaning of its own. 12 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. 13 And things turned out exactly as he interpreted them to us: I was restored to my position, and the other man was impaled.”

Since it had only been two years, the Pharaoh would’ve likely remembered sending the cupbearer and the baker in prison. So, this testimony would’ve been a good lead for Pharaoh to explore.

“Magician” is an Egyptian term—not a Hebrew one.[7] This helps to demonstrate the historicity of this account. Whoever wrote this book was familiar with the Egyptian language and culture. This fits quite well with Moses who was “educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians” (Acts 7:22).

(41:14-16) So Pharaoh sent for Joseph, and he was quickly brought from the dungeon. When he had shaved and changed his clothes, he came before Pharaoh. 15 Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I had a dream, and no one can interpret it. But I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.”

“I cannot do it,” Joseph replied to Pharaoh, “but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires.”

It would’ve been easy for Joseph to be bitter with his circumstances or directly with God. Yet, Joseph immediately gave God the credit—not himself. He continues to grow in humility.

(41:17-24) Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “In my dream I was standing on the bank of the Nile, 18 when out of the river there came up seven cows, fat and sleek, and they grazed among the reeds. 19 After them, seven other cows came up—scrawny and very ugly and lean. I had never seen such ugly cows in all the land of Egypt. 20 The lean, ugly cows ate up the seven fat cows that came up first. 21 But even after they ate them, no one could tell that they had done so; they looked just as ugly as before. Then I woke up.

22 “In my dream I saw seven heads of grain, full and good, growing on a single stalk. 23 After them, seven other heads sprouted—withered and thin and scorched by the east wind. 24 The thin heads of grain swallowed up the seven good heads. I told this to the magicians, but none of them could explain it to me.”

Pharaoh repeats his dream for Joseph.

(41:25-32) 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. 26 The seven good cows are seven years, and the seven good heads of grain are seven years; it is one and the same dream.

27 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. 28 It is just as I said to Pharaoh: God has shown Pharaoh what he is about to do.

29 Seven years of great abundance are coming throughout the land of Egypt, 30 but seven years of famine will follow them. Then all the abundance in Egypt will be forgotten, and the famine will ravage the land. 31 The abundance in the land will not be remembered, because the famine that follows it will be so severe. 32 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.”

Joseph interprets the dream to predict seven years of prosperity and seven years of famine.

“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.” The repetition reminds us of how Joseph received two dreams of his brothers and father bowing down to him (Gen. 37:5-11). This off-handed comment by Joseph reminds the reader that God is going to bring Joseph to a place of prominence. Indeed, perhaps this promise is what kept Joseph’s faith so strong for so long.

(41:33-36) “And now let Pharaoh look for a discerning and wise man and put him in charge of the land of Egypt. 34 Let Pharaoh appoint commissioners over the land to take a fifth of the harvest of Egypt during the seven years of abundance. 35 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. 36 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.”

Joseph suggests that Pharaoh should get a manager to run his finances and save for the economic recession in seven years. Where could Pharaoh find a “discerning and wise man” like this?

(41:37-44) The plan seemed good to Pharaoh and to all his officials. 38 So Pharaoh asked them, “Can we find anyone like this man, one in whom is the spirit of God?”

39 Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one so discerning and wise as you. 40 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.

41 So Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I hereby put you in charge of the whole land of Egypt.”

42 Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his finger and put it on Joseph’s finger. He dressed him in robes of fine linen and put a gold chain around his neck. 43 He had him ride in a chariot as his second-in-command, and people shouted before him, “Make way!”

Thus he put him in charge of the whole land of Egypt. 44 Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I am Pharaoh, but without your word no one will lift hand or foot in all Egypt.”

Joseph went from rags to riches overnight. The Pharaoh recognized that no one was as “discerning and wise” as Joseph. So, Joseph is finally receiving the recognition that he deserves.

The “signet ring” was a way of demonstrating that an ancient king was giving his royal authority to someone. From this point forward, Joseph was “second-in-command” to Pharaoh himself.

(41:45-47) Pharaoh gave Joseph the name Zaphenath-Paneah and gave him Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest of On, to be his wife. And Joseph went throughout the land of Egypt. 46 Joseph was thirty years old when he entered the service of Pharaoh king of Egypt. And Joseph went out from Pharaoh’s presence and traveled throughout Egypt. 47 During the seven years of abundance the land produced plentifully.

Instead of a one-night stand with Potiphar’s wife, Joseph gets a wife from the priest of Potiphera. He takes charge of planning for the terrible recession.

These names and titles have an Egyptian origin. This continues to support the historicity of this account.

  • Zaphenath-Paneah is an Egyptian title that means “nourisher of the land of the living one.”[8]
  • Asenath is an Egyptian name that means “the favorite of Neith.”
  • Potiphera is an Egyptian name that means “the gift of Ra” or “he whom Re (the sun-god) has given.”[9]

(41:48-49) Joseph collected all the food produced in those seven years of abundance in Egypt and stored it in the cities. In each city he put the food grown in the fields surrounding it. 49 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.

Joseph followed the economic plan that he set out after hearing Pharaoh’s dreams.

(41:50-52) Before the years of famine came, two sons were born to Joseph by Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest of On. 51 Joseph named his firstborn Manasseh and said, “It is because God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household.”

52 The second son he named Ephraim and said, “It is because God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering.”

Joseph has two sons. He gives them Hebrew—not Egyptian—names. He must be genuinely happy because he names his sons Manasseh (“forget”) and Ephraim (“fruitful”).

(41:53-57) The seven years of abundance in Egypt came to an end, 54 and the seven years of famine began, just as Joseph had said. There was famine in all the other lands, but in the whole land of Egypt there was food. 55 When all Egypt began to feel the famine, the people cried to Pharaoh for food. Then Pharaoh told all the Egyptians, “Go to Joseph and do what he tells you.”

56 When the famine had spread over the whole country, Joseph opened all the storehouses and sold grain to the Egyptians, for the famine was severe throughout Egypt. 57 And all the world came to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph, because the famine was severe everywhere.

Joseph’s work saved the whole nation, and in the next chapter, saves the burgeoning nation of Israel.

Questions for Reflection

At the beginning of this chapter, Joseph was waiting in prison for two years. How do you think Joseph was feeling?

By the end of the chapter, Joseph was second-in-command to only Pharaoh himself. How do you think Joseph was feeling? What do you think Joseph learned about God from this experience?

What strengths of character does Joseph have?

What positive things did God accomplish through his plan to send Joseph into Pharaoh’s court the way that he did? For example, what did God do in Joseph’s character during these years? What did he accomplish in the nation of Egypt as a whole?

Genesis 42 (Joseph has an unusual family reunion)

(42:1-2) When Jacob learned that there was grain in Egypt, he said to his sons, “Why do you just keep looking at each other?” 2 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.”

Meanwhile, back home in Canaan: Jacob was enduring the famine, and he tells his sons to go get food from Egypt. Jacob hasn’t appeared since the beginning of the narrative (Gen. 37:34).

(42:3-4) Then ten of Joseph’s brothers went down to buy grain from Egypt. 4 But Jacob did not send Benjamin, Joseph’s brother, with the others, because he was afraid that harm might come to him.

Jacob may have been traumatized after losing his youngest and favorite son, Joseph. So, he keeps Benjamin back home—out of danger.

(42:5-17) So Israel’s sons were among those who went to buy grain, for there was famine in the land of Canaan also.

6 Now Joseph was the governor of the land, the person who sold grain to all its people. So when Joseph’s brothers arrived, they bowed down to him with their faces to the ground. 7 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.”

8 Although Joseph recognized his brothers, they did not recognize him. 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.”

10 “No, my lord,” they answered. “Your servants have come to buy food. 11 We are all the sons of one man. Your servants are honest men, not spies.”

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

13 But they replied, “Your servants were twelve brothers, the sons of one man, who lives in the land of Canaan. The youngest is now with our father, and one is no more.”

14 Joseph said to them, “It is just as I told you: You are spies! 15 And this is how you will be tested: As surely as Pharaoh lives, you will not leave this place unless your youngest brother comes here. 16 Send one of your number to get your brother; the rest of you will be kept in prison, so that your words may be tested to see if you are telling the truth. If you are not, then as surely as Pharaoh lives, you are spies!” 17 And he put them all in custody for three days.

Why couldn’t Joseph’s brothers recognize him? For one, Joseph was 17 years old the last time he saw his brothers (Gen. 37:2), and now, he was probably around 40 years old. He began his rule at the age of 30, and at least seven years had passed during the years of prosperity (Gen. 41:46).

Second, Joseph’s brothers probably thought he had died in slavery (v.13). So, they would’ve had no expectation of seeing their brother—let alone as the second-in-command to the Pharaoh!

Third, Joseph was wearing all of the royal attire of an Egyptian ruler (e.g. clothing, haircut, jewelry, crown?). For all intents and purposes, he would’ve been disguised.

“[Joseph] remembered his dreams about them.” It had been roughly 20 years since he received his prophetic dreams as a man of 17 years old (Gen. 37:2-11).

“You are spies!” Why did Joseph keep accusing them of being spies? It seems that he wanted a plausible reason to bring Benjamin to himself.

But why bring Benjamin? It seems that Joseph is trying to see if his brothers have changed. After all, the last time that he saw them, they had been selling him into slavery and leaving him for dead. Were they still cold-hearted killers? If they put their lives on the line for their youngest brother Benjamin, this would show that repentance had taken place.

(42:18-20) On the third day, Joseph said to them, “Do this and you will live, for I fear God: 19 If you are honest men, let one of your brothers stay here in prison, while the rest of you go and take grain back for your starving households. 20 But you must bring your youngest brother to me, so that your words may be verified and that you may not die.” This they proceeded to do.

Would the brothers leave the one brother in prison in order to save their own lives? Or would they bring Benjamin back to Egypt?

(42:21-24) 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 on us.”

22 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.”

23 They did not realize that Joseph could understand them, since he was using an interpreter. 24 He turned away from them and began to weep, but then came back and spoke to them again. He had Simeon taken from them and bound before their eyes.

The brothers had been living with a guilty conscience for over 20 years. They felt that this circumstance was a punishment from God.

Why did Joseph weep? Perhaps the entire dysfunction of his family was bringing up long dormant emotions. Perhaps he was weeping because he saw that his brothers were showing some sort of conscience for what they did to him.

Why did Joseph hold Simeon in custody? This is likely because Simeon was the most cruel and violent of the brothers (Gen. 34:25; 49:5-7).

(42:25-28) Joseph gave orders to fill their bags with grain, to put each man’s silver back in his sack, and to give them provisions for their journey. After this was done for them, 26 they loaded their grain on their donkeys and left. 27 At the place where they stopped for the night one of them opened his sack to get feed for his donkey, and he saw his silver in the mouth of his sack.

28 “My silver has been returned,” he said to his brothers. “Here it is in my sack.” Their hearts sank and they turned to each other trembling and said, “What is this that God has done to us?”

“What is this that God has done to us?” There is a great irony in the brothers being afraid and thinking God was cursing them (v.28). In reality, God was in the process of blessing them! This act also shows that Joseph wasn’t being malicious earlier in terrorizing his brothers. His interrogation and scare-tactics were for a purpose—to get Benjamin back and see if his brothers were repentant for selling him into slavery. Would the brothers repeat their sin and leave Simeon to rot in jail, or would they return?

(42:29-35) When they came to their father Jacob in the land of Canaan, they told him all that had happened to them. They said, 30 “The man who is lord over the land spoke harshly to us and treated us as though we were spying on the land. 31 But we said to him, ‘We are honest men; we are not spies. 32 We were twelve brothers, sons of one father. One is no more, and the youngest is now with our father in Canaan.’ 33 “Then the man who is lord over the land said to us, ‘This is how I will know whether you are honest men: Leave one of your brothers here with me, and take food for your starving households and go. 34 But bring your youngest brother to me so I will know that you are not spies but honest men. Then I will give your brother back to you, and you can trade in the land.’” 35 As they were emptying their sacks, there in each man’s sack was his pouch of silver! When they and their father saw the money pouches, they were frightened.

The brothers recount the story to Jacob.

(42:36) 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!”

“Everything is against me!” This is terrible irony. None of Jacob’s fears were true. Joseph was alive, Simeon was alive, Benjamin was in no danger, and nothing was against Jacob. Everyone was in safe hands, including Jacob.

Yet how often we feel just like Jacob! At times, we face terrible and terrifying circumstances, and it seems like our world is falling apart. But are you willing to wait and see what God is going to bring through these circumstances? Or are you going to quit and panic when you inevitably face trials and turmoil?

(42:37-38) Then Reuben said to his father, “You may put both of my sons to death if I do not bring him back to you. Entrust him to my care, and I will bring him back.”

38 But Jacob said, “My son will not go down there with you; his brother is dead and he is the only one left. If harm comes to him on the journey you are taking, you will bring my gray head down to the grave in sorrow.”

Even though Reuben promises to watch over Benjamin—even pledging the lives of his sons. But Jacob refuses to release him. Jacob is still playing favorites with Benjamin, willing to let Simeon rot in jail.

Questions for Reflection

Read verses 21-22. Do you think that Joseph’s brothers had genuinely changed and repented at this point?

Read verse 36. Explain the irony in what Jacob was thinking and feeling.

Read verses 36-38. Because Jacob had lost Joseph, he was apprehensive to send another other son into danger. Often, when we go through pain and suffering, we take less risks and steps of faith. How does this narrative speak against this attitude of unbelief?

Genesis 43 (The 9 Sons Return to Egypt)

(43:1-14) Now the famine was still severe in the land. 2 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.”

3 But Judah said to him, “The man warned us solemnly, ‘You will not see my face again unless your brother is with you.’ 4 If you will send our brother along with us, we will go down and buy food for you. 5 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.’”

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

7 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’?”

8 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. 9 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. 10 As it is, if we had not delayed, we could have gone and returned twice.”

11 Then their father Israel said to them, “If it must be, then do this: Put some of the best products of the land in your bags and take them down to the man as a gift—a little balm and a little honey, some spices and myrrh, some pistachio nuts and almonds. 12 Take double the amount of silver with you, for you must return the silver that was put back into the mouths of your sacks. Perhaps it was a mistake. 13 Take your brother also and go back to the man at once. 14 And may God Almighty grant you mercy before the man so that he will let your other brother and Benjamin come back with you. As for me, if I am bereaved, I am bereaved.”

Eventually, the famine became so severe that Jacob sent his boys back to collect more food. Of course, Jacob didn’t want to send Benjamin, but Judah took full responsibility for his safety (vv.8-9). Jacob told his boys to bring twice the money as before and bring some goods to smooth things over with “the man” (Joseph).

(43:15-31) So the men took the gifts and double the amount of silver, and Benjamin also. They hurried down to Egypt and presented themselves to Joseph. 16 When Joseph saw Benjamin with them, he said to the steward of his house, “Take these men to my house, slaughter an animal and prepare a meal. They are to eat with me at noon.” 17 The man did as Joseph told him and took the men to Joseph’s house.

18 Now the men were frightened when they were taken to his house. They thought, “We were brought here because of the silver that was put back into our sacks the first time. He wants to attack us and overpower us and seize us as slaves and take our donkeys.” 19 So they went up to Joseph’s steward and spoke to him at the entrance to the house. 20 “We beg your pardon, our lord,” they said, “we came down here the first time to buy food. 21 But at the place where we stopped for the night we opened our sacks and each of us found his silver—the exact weight—in the mouth of his sack. So we have brought it back with us. 22 We have also brought additional silver with us to buy food. We don’t know who put our silver in our sacks.”

23 “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. 24 The steward took the men into Joseph’s house, gave them water to wash their feet and provided fodder for their donkeys. 25 They prepared their gifts for Joseph’s arrival at noon, because they had heard that they were to eat there. 26 When Joseph came home, they presented to him the gifts they had brought into the house, and they bowed down before him to the ground.

27 He asked them how they were, and then he said, “How is your aged father you told me about? Is he still living?”

28 They replied, “Your servant our father is still alive and well.” And they bowed down, prostrating themselves before him.

29 As he looked about and saw his brother Benjamin, his own mother’s son, he asked, “Is this your youngest brother, the one you told me about?” And he said, “God be gracious to you, my son.”

30 Deeply moved at the sight of his brother, Joseph hurried out and looked for a place to weep. He went into his private room and wept there. 31 After he had washed his face, he came out and, controlling himself, said, “Serve the food.”

Joseph welcomed them with a large feast when they returned. The sons of Jacob explained the fiasco of having the money in their sacks, and they promised to repay everything. The household manager told them not to worry about it (v.23). Joseph asked about his father (v.27), and his youngest brother Benjamin (v.29).

Why was Joseph weeping? He hadn’t seen his father for over 20 years, and it must’ve been a relief to know that he was still alive. Moreover, Joseph hadn’t seen Benjamin for 20 years either. Joseph was overcome with many emotions: betrayal, hurt, and happiness.

(43:32-34) They served him by himself, the brothers by themselves, and the Egyptians who ate with him by themselves, because Egyptians could not eat with Hebrews, for that is detestable to Egyptians. 33 The men had been seated before him in the order of their ages, from the firstborn to the youngest; and they looked at each other in astonishment. 34 When portions were served to them from Joseph’s table, Benjamin’s portion was five times as much as anyone else’s. So they feasted and drank freely with him.

Why didn’t Egyptians eat with the Hebrews? This might have simply been pure racism. However, it could also be the fact that shepherds were considered lower class. Later, the text states, “Shepherds are detestable to the Egyptians” (Gen. 46:34).

Why did Joseph place the men in the order of their age? He may have done this to cause their “astonishment” at knowing their birth order.

Questions for Reflection

What were the brothers expecting when they met Joseph this second time? What did they experience instead?

What was keeping the brothers from recognizing Joseph?

What do you think Joseph was feeling when he burst into tears behind closed doors? What do you suppose might have been going through his mind?

Read verse 34. Why do you think that Joseph gave Benjamin a portion that was “five times as much as anyone else’s”? (Consider the fact that Benjamin was the youngest—especially in light of Joseph’s own treatment in Genesis 37:4.)

Genesis 44 (Joseph frames Benjamin)

(44:1-12) Now Joseph gave these instructions to the steward of his house: “Fill the men’s sacks with as much food as they can carry, and put each man’s silver in the mouth of his sack. 2 Then put my cup, the silver one, in the mouth of the youngest one’s sack, along with the silver for his grain.” And he did as Joseph said.

3 As morning dawned, the men were sent on their way with their donkeys. 4 They had not gone far from the city when Joseph said to his steward, “Go after those men at once, and when you catch up with them, say to them, ‘Why have you repaid good with evil? 5 Isn’t this the cup my master drinks from and also uses for divination? This is a wicked thing you have done.’” 6 When he caught up with them, he repeated these words to them.

7 But they said to him, “Why does my lord say such things? Far be it from your servants to do anything like that! 8 We even brought back to you from the land of Canaan the silver we found inside the mouths of our sacks. So why would we steal silver or gold from your master’s house? 9 If any of your servants is found to have it, he will die; and the rest of us will become my lord’s slaves.”

10 “Very well, then,” he said, “let it be as you say. Whoever is found to have it will become my slave; the rest of you will be free from blame.”

11 Each of them quickly lowered his sack to the ground and opened it. 12 Then the steward proceeded to search, beginning with the oldest and ending with the youngest. And the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack.

Joseph is really putting the squeeze on his brothers. Sailhamer comments, “While it had looked like he was working a slow revenge upon his brothers, we can now see that his purpose was not revenge but repentance.”[10] He frames Benjamin in order to see if his brothers had changed since they sold him into slavery. Will the brothers cut bait and abandon the youngest brother and save their own skins? The brothers stood with Benjamin with their words, but when their lives were on the line, would they lay down their lives for Benjamin?

(44:13-34) At this, they tore their clothes. Then they all loaded their donkeys and returned to the city. 14 Joseph was still in the house when Judah and his brothers came in, and they threw themselves to the ground before him.

15 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?”

16 “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.”

17 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.”

Judah summarizes what had happened and pleads for Benjamin’s life…

18 Then Judah went up to him and said: “Pardon your servant, my lord, let me speak a word to my lord. Do not be angry with your servant, though you are equal to Pharaoh himself. 19 My lord asked his servants, ‘Do you have a father or a brother?’ 20 And we answered, ‘We have an aged father, and there is a young son born to him in his old age. His brother is dead, and he is the only one of his mother’s sons left, and his father loves him.’ 21 Then you said to your servants, ‘Bring him down to me so I can see him for myself.’ 22 And we said to my lord, ‘The boy cannot leave his father. If he leaves him, his father will die.’ 23 But you told your servants, ‘Unless your youngest brother comes down with you, you will not see my face again.’ 24 When we went back to your servant my father, we told him what my lord had said. 25 Then our father said, ‘Go back and buy a little more food.’ 26 But we said, ‘We cannot go down. Only if our youngest brother is with us will we go. We cannot see the man’s face unless our youngest brother is with us.’ 27 Your servant my father said to us, ‘You know that my wife bore me two sons. 28 One of them went away from me, and I said, “He has surely been torn to pieces.” And I have not seen him since. 29 If you take this one from me too and harm comes to him, you will bring my gray head down to the grave in misery.’

30 “So now, if the boy is not with us when I go back to your servant my father, and if my father, whose life is closely bound up with the boy’s life, 31 sees that the boy isn’t there, he will die. Your servants will bring the gray head of our father down to the grave in sorrow. 32 Your servant guaranteed the boy’s safety to my father. I said, ‘If I do not bring him back to you, I will bear the blame before you, my father, all my life!’ 33 Now then, please let your servant remain here as my lord’s slave in place of the boy, and let the boy return with his brothers. 34 How can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? No! Do not let me see the misery that would come on my father.”

As the ad hoc leader, Judah steps in to plead for mercy (v.18). Judah explains how Jacob would die if they don’t return with Benjamin, and Judah offers to stand in Benjamin’s place for him.

This is what Joseph was looking for: Judah was willing to give his life for the freedom of Benjamin. He had truly repented for what he had done to Joseph. Instead of being a malicious leader, this experience has turned Judah into a sacrificial leader.

Questions for Reflection

Why did Joseph put his brothers through this turmoil by framing Benjamin?

What did this reveal in the character of Judah? What are signs that he is repentant?

Read verse 16. What do we learn about repentance from Judah’s words?

Genesis 45 (Joseph reveals his identity)

(45:1-2) 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. 2 And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard him, and Pharaoh’s household heard about it.

Joseph couldn’t stand keeping the secret any longer. The loud weeping truly shows that Joseph wasn’t tormenting his brothers. He had a purpose for putting them through the grief. He sent out all of his servants and wept loudly.

(45:3) Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still living?” But his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence.

His brothers were still in disbelief. Indeed, just imagine how difficult it would be to change your view on the last 20 years of your life—not to mention the recent fear of this frightening “Egyptian man.”

(45:4-5) 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! 5 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.

“Do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here.” In the previous chapters, the reason the brothers were afraid was the fact that they thought they were under the judgment of God for their sin. Therefore, it makes considerable sense that Joseph would tell them to stop beating themselves up.

(45:6-8) “For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. 7 But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. 8 “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.”

“It was not you… but God.” After all of his personal suffering, Joseph was able to see through the eyes of faith: God was the one working through these evil circumstances. Instead of blaming his brothers, Joseph was able to identify God’s sovereign hand.

“Ruler of all Egypt.” At the beginning of the narrative, the brothers asked, “Do you intend to reign over us? Will you actually rule us?” Then, the text says that they “hated him all the more” (Gen. 37:8). In this text, the brothers witness the fulfillment of this prophetic dream, and they love Joseph all the more for it.

(45:9-15) “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. 10 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. 11 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.’ 12 You can see for yourselves, and so can my brother Benjamin, that it is really I who am speaking to you. 13 Tell my father about all the honor accorded me in Egypt and about everything you have seen. And bring my father down here quickly.”

14 Then he threw his arms around his brother Benjamin and wept, and Benjamin embraced him, weeping. 15 And he kissed all his brothers and wept over them. Afterward his brothers talked with him.

Joseph tells them that there are still five more years of famine ahead of them (v.6), so they should bring Jacob to Goshen.

“Wept… weeping… wept.” Joseph continues to weep over his brothers, forgiving them. It’s only after his tears that Joseph’s brothers drop their guard and talk to them.

(45:16-21) When the news reached Pharaoh’s palace that Joseph’s brothers had come, Pharaoh and all his officials were pleased. 17 Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Tell your brothers, ‘Do this: Load your animals and return to the land of Canaan, 18 and bring your father and your families back to me. I will give you the best of the land of Egypt and you can enjoy the fat of the land.’ 19 You are also directed to tell them, ‘Do this: Take some carts from Egypt for your children and your wives, and get your father and come. 20 Never mind about your belongings, because the best of all Egypt will be yours.’”

21 So the sons of Israel did this. Joseph gave them carts, as Pharaoh had commanded, and he also gave them provisions for their journey.

Pharaoh embraces Joseph’s plan to rescue his brothers and their families.

(45:22) To each of them he gave new clothing, but to Benjamin he gave three hundred shekels of silver and five sets of clothes.

Even though Benjamin was the youngest, he received the most blessing.

(45:23-24) And this is what he sent to his father: ten donkeys loaded with the best things of Egypt, and ten female donkeys loaded with grain and bread and other provisions for his journey. 24 Then he sent his brothers away, and as they were leaving he said to them, “Don’t quarrel on the way!”

“Don’t quarrel on the way!” Joseph tells the brothers not to blame shift about their crime. Instead, because they are forgiven, they should tell what happened truthfully and plainly to Jacob. It would still be easy for the brothers to fall back into their old ways of covering up the problem, and Joseph warns them not to do this.

(45:25-28) So they went up out of Egypt and came to their father Jacob in the land of Canaan. 26 They told him, “Joseph is still alive! In fact, he is ruler of all Egypt.” Jacob was stunned. He did not believe them. 27 But when they told him everything Joseph had said to them, and when he saw the carts Joseph had sent to carry him back, the spirit of their father Jacob revived. 28 And Israel said, “I’m convinced! My son Joseph is still alive. I will go and see him before I die.”

Questions for Reflection

What do we learn about forgiveness from Joseph’s attitude and actions?

How do you think Jacob was feeling when he got this news about Joseph being alive? And then how must he have felt to discover Joseph’s new position in Egypt!

Genesis 46 (Jacob goes to Egypt with his entire family)

(46:1-4) So Israel set out with all that was his, and when he reached Beersheba, he offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac. 2 And God spoke to Israel in a vision at night and said, “Jacob! Jacob!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

3 “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. 4 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.”

“Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt.” It would be quite intimidating going to Egypt as an Israelite man. Indeed, the Egyptians considerably outnumbered the Israelites, and the Egyptians didn’t like the Israelites. The text states, “Egyptians could not eat with Hebrews, for that is detestable to Egyptians” (Gen. 43:32).

“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.” This refers back to the promise given to Abraham to become a “great nation” (leg̱ôy gāḏôl, Gen. 12:2). God told Abraham, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. 14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions” (Gen. 15:13-14). The book of Exodus describes the fulfillment of this promise.

(46:5-7) Then Jacob left Beersheba, and Israel’s sons took their father Jacob and their children and their wives in the carts that Pharaoh had sent to transport him. 6 So Jacob and all his offspring went to Egypt, taking with them their livestock and the possessions they had acquired in Canaan. 7 Jacob brought with him to Egypt his sons and grandsons and his daughters and granddaughters—all his offspring.

God encouraged Jacob to travel to Egypt through a personal vision. God promised Jacob that he would die in Egypt, but he would be surrounded by his loved ones. Also, God promised to provide for his family in Egypt. This was enough for Jacob to make the step of faith to travel to Egypt.

(46:8-27) These are the genealogies of Jacob. The number of people in this list adds up to 70 (v.27). Since the Table of Nations contains 70 nations, Sailhamer[11] holds that the similarity shows that 70 nations represent the sons of Adam in the same way that these 70 people represent the sons of Abraham (cf. Ex. 1:5).

(46:28-32) Now Jacob sent Judah ahead of him to Joseph to get directions to Goshen. When they arrived in the region of Goshen, 29 Joseph had his chariot made ready and went to Goshen to meet his father Israel. As soon as Joseph appeared before him, he threw his arms around his father and wept for a long time. 30 Israel said to Joseph, “Now I am ready to die, since I have seen for myself that you are still alive.”

31 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. 32 The men are shepherds; they tend livestock, and they have brought along their flocks and herds and everything they own.’”

At long last, Joseph and his father reunite! The last time they saw each other, Joseph was a teenager. It’s no wonder that Joseph wept tears of joy.

(46:33-34) When Pharaoh calls you in and asks, ‘What is your occupation?’ 34 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.”

Joseph wants his family to be honest with Pharaoh. This was something they were not used to doing!

Joseph also wanted his family to be insulated from the Egyptians, so that they don’t lose their spiritual and cultural identity.

Questions for Reflection

Read verses 1-4. When God appears to someone, there must be a very good reason. Why did God need to encourage Jacob through a personal vision? What fears and difficulties was Jacob facing?

Genesis 47 (Joseph saves Egypt and Canaan through the famine)

(47:1-6) Joseph went and told Pharaoh, “My father and brothers, with their flocks and herds and everything they own, have come from the land of Canaan and are now in Goshen.” 2 He chose five of his brothers and presented them before Pharaoh.

3 Pharaoh asked the brothers, “What is your occupation?”

“Your servants are shepherds,” they replied to Pharaoh, “just as our fathers were.” 4 They also said to him, “We have come to live here for a while, because the famine is severe in Canaan and your servants’ flocks have no pasture. So now, please let your servants settle in Goshen.” 5 Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Your father and your brothers have come to you, 6 and the land of Egypt is before you; settle your father and your brothers in the best part of the land. Let them live in Goshen. And if you know of any among them with special ability, put them in charge of my own livestock.”

When a good worker at a job gives a referral, the boss is usually interested in hiring the person. Pharaoh was very impressed with Joseph’s leadership and competence. So, he wanted to put Joseph’s family to work as well.

(47:7-11) Then Joseph brought his father Jacob in and presented him before Pharaoh. After Jacob blessed Pharaoh, 8 Pharaoh asked him, “How old are you?”

9 And Jacob said to Pharaoh, “The years of my pilgrimage are a hundred and thirty. My years have been few and difficult, and they do not equal the years of the pilgrimage of my fathers.”

10 Then Jacob blessed Pharaoh and went out from his presence. 11 So Joseph settled his father and his brothers in Egypt and gave them property in the best part of the land, the district of Rameses, as Pharaoh directed.

Is there any significance in the fact that Jacob blesses Pharaoh?

(47:12) Joseph also provided his father and his brothers and all his father’s household with food, according to the number of their children.

Even the little kids had enough to eat during this horrible famine.

(47:13-27) There was no food, however, in the whole region because the famine was severe; both Egypt and Canaan wasted away because of the famine. 14 Joseph collected all the money that was to be found in Egypt and Canaan in payment for the grain they were buying, and he brought it to Pharaoh’s palace. 15 When the money of the people of Egypt and Canaan was gone, all Egypt came to Joseph and said, “Give us food. Why should we die before your eyes? Our money is all gone.”

16 “Then bring your livestock,” said Joseph. “I will sell you food in exchange for your livestock, since your money is gone.”

17 So they brought their livestock to Joseph, and he gave them food in exchange for their horses, their sheep and goats, their cattle and donkeys. And he brought them through that year with food in exchange for all their livestock. 18 When that year was over, they came to him the following year and said, “We cannot hide from our lord the fact that since our money is gone and our livestock belongs to you, there is nothing left for our lord except our bodies and our land. 19 Why should we perish before your eyes—we and our land as well? Buy us and our land in exchange for food, and we with our land will be in bondage to Pharaoh. Give us seed so that we may live and not die, and that the land may not become desolate.”

20 So Joseph bought all the land in Egypt for Pharaoh. The Egyptians, one and all, sold their fields, because the famine was too severe for them. The land became Pharaoh’s, 21 and Joseph reduced the people to servitude, from one end of Egypt to the other. 22 However, he did not buy the land of the priests, because they received a regular allotment from Pharaoh and had food enough from the allotment Pharaoh gave them. That is why they did not sell their land.

23 Joseph said to the people, “Now that I have bought you and your land today for Pharaoh, here is seed for you so you can plant the ground. 24 But when the crop comes in, give a fifth of it to Pharaoh. The other four-fifths you may keep as seed for the fields and as food for yourselves and your households and your children.”

“You have saved our lives,” they said. “May we find favor in the eyes of our lord; we will be in bondage to Pharaoh.” 26 So Joseph established it as a law concerning land in Egypt—still in force today—that a fifth of the produce belongs to Pharaoh. It was only the land of the priests that did not become Pharaoh’s. 27 Now the Israelites settled in Egypt in the region of Goshen. They acquired property there and were fruitful and increased greatly in number.

Joseph made a huge profit off of the famine, but he still made a fair deal for the people who were selling him their land—letting them keep 80% (v.24). Indentured servitude seems severe to modern readers. However, the people certainly felt happy with this exchange (v.25). After all, in the ancient world, the poor couldn’t file for bankruptcy. They either needed to work or starve.

(47:28-31) Jacob lived in Egypt seventeen years, and the years of his life were a hundred and forty-seven. 29 When the time drew near for Israel to die, he called for his son Joseph and said to him, “If I have found favor in your eyes, put your hand under my thigh and promise that you will show me kindness and faithfulness. Do not bury me in Egypt, 30 but when I rest with my fathers, carry me out of Egypt and bury me where they are buried.”

“I will do as you say,” he said.

31 “Swear to me,” he said. Then Joseph swore to him, and Israel worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff.

Jacob lived to 147 years old. His final request was to not be buried in Egypt. Like Joseph, Jacob knew that God’s plan wasn’t going to stay located in Egypt. Jacob trusted God’s promise about getting taken out of the land of Egypt more than he trusted his current circumstances.

Questions for Reflection

Read verses 28-31. What is the significance of Jacob wanting to be buried in Israel—outside of Egypt? Why is he so adamant about this?

Genesis 48 (Jacob blesses Joseph’s sons: Ephraim and Manasseh)

(48:1-4) Some time later Joseph was told, “Your father is ill.” So he took his two sons Manasseh and Ephraim along with him. 2 When Jacob was told, “Your son Joseph has come to you,” Israel rallied his strength and sat up on the bed. 3 Jacob said to Joseph, “God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan, and there he blessed me 4 and said to me, ‘I am going to make you fruitful and increase your numbers. I will make you a community of peoples, and I will give this land as an everlasting possession to your descendants after you.’”

As Jacob dies, he imparts his final words to his sons. He begins by repeating the Abrahamic Covenant to Joseph.

(48:5-11) “Now then, your two sons born to you in Egypt before I came to you here will be reckoned as mine. Ephraim and Manasseh will be mine, just as Reuben and Simeon are mine. 6 Any children born to you after them will be yours. In the territory they inherit they will be reckoned under the names of their brothers. 7 As I was returning from Paddan, to my sorrow Rachel died in the land of Canaan while we were still on the way, a little distance from Ephrath. So I buried her there beside the road to Ephrath” (that is, Bethlehem).

8 When Israel saw the sons of Joseph, he asked, “Who are these?”

9 “They are the sons God has given me here,” Joseph said to his father.

Then Israel said, “Bring them to me so I may bless them.”

10 Now Israel’s eyes were failing because of old age, and he could hardly see. So Joseph brought his sons close to him, and his father kissed them and embraced them. 11 Israel said to Joseph, “I never expected to see your face again, and now God has allowed me to see your children too.”

When Isaac’s eyes were failing, he blessed Jacob, rather than Esau. Now, Jacob is blessing his grandsons. The lying, deceiving, and dysfunction in the family has lifted—for now.

(48:12-14) Then Joseph removed them from Israel’s knees and bowed down with his face to the ground. 13 And Joseph took both of them, Ephraim on his right toward Israel’s left hand and Manasseh on his left toward Israel’s right hand, and brought them close to him. 14 But Israel reached out his right hand and put it on Ephraim’s head, though he was the younger, and crossing his arms, he put his left hand on Manasseh’s head, even though Manasseh was the firstborn.

The concept of primogeniture stated that the firstborn would receive the biggest blessing. But Jacob quite literally crosses his arms and blesses the young boy, Ephraim.

(48:15-16) Then he blessed Joseph and said, “May the God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked faithfully, the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day, 16 the Angel who has delivered me from all harm—may he bless these boys. May they be called by my name and the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac, and may they increase greatly on the earth.”

“Abraham and Isaac walked faithfully.” Abraham and Isaac committed sins of cowardice. Yet, Abraham was justified by his faith (Gen. 15:6). So, in retrospect, the two men could be said to have a close relationship with God.

“The Angel who has delivered me from all harm.” Jacob uses synonymous parallelism to refer to God as the angel who wrestled with him. Jacob viewed his wrestling with God as a form of redemption in his life that kept him on the right path of following God.

(48:17-19) When Joseph saw his father placing his right hand on Ephraim’s head he was displeased; so he took hold of his father’s hand to move it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s head. 18 Joseph said to him, “No, my father, this one is the firstborn; put your right hand on his head.”

19 But his father refused and said, “I know, my son, I know. He too will become a people, and he too will become great. Nevertheless, his younger brother will be greater than he, and his descendants will become a group of nations.”

Even Joseph was confused by Jacob’s actions of blessing the younger son, Ephraim. Yet, this has become a major theme thus far in Genesis, where God chooses the younger rather than the older. And it will continue to be a repeated theme throughout the rest of the Bible, where the undeserving get the blessing.

These two boys go on to be the heads of “two of the most important of the tribes of Israel.” Later, “these two names became synonymous with the northern kingdom of Israel, which stood in bitter opposition to the kingdom of Judah.”[12]

(48:20-22) He blessed them that day and said, “In your name will Israel pronounce this blessing: ‘May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh.’”

So he put Ephraim ahead of Manasseh. 21 Then Israel said to Joseph, “I am about to die, but God will be with you and take you back to the land of your fathers. 22 And to you I give one more ridge of land than to your brothers, the ridge I took from the Amorites with my sword and my bow.”

Jacob speaks with the plural “you,” which shows that he’s speaking of the future. He seems to mean that the “the house of Joseph [would] be represented in the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh.”[13]

Questions for Reflection

Why is this chapter included in the narrative? How does this help to resolve the narrative?

Genesis 49 (Jacob predicts the future of his sons)

These predictions from Jacob tie the book of Genesis together. They describe how the Abraham Covenant will be fulfilled in the sons of Jacob.

“Days to come” (beʾaha hayyāmîm) is more literally “the last days.”[14] Sailhamer writes, “The same expression occurs in the Pentateuch as an introduction to two other poetic discourses, the oracles of Balaam (Num 24:14-24) and the last words of Moses (Deut 31:29). On all three occasions the subject matter introduced by the phrase ‘in days to come’ is that of God’s future deliverance of his chosen people. At the center of that deliverance stands a king (Gen 49:10; Num 24:7; Deut 33:5). In Genesis 49 that king is connected with the house of Judah.”[15]

Furthermore, the messianic claim for Judah (vv.8-12) implies a restoration of the Garden. Again, Sailhamer writes, “Behind such imagery of peace and prosperity lies the picture of the Garden of Eden—the Paradise lost. The focus of Jacob’s words has been the promise that when the one comes to whom the kingship truly belongs, there will once again be the peace and prosperity that God intended all to have in the Garden of Eden.”[16]

(49:1) Then Jacob called for his sons and said: “Gather around so I can tell you what will happen to you in days to come. 2 Assemble and listen, sons of Jacob. Listen to your father Israel.”

Jacob understood himself to be a prophet in some sense.

Reuben

(49:3-4) “Reuben, you are my firstborn, my might, the first sign of my strength, excelling in honor, excelling in power. 4 Turbulent as the waters, you will no longer excel, for you went up onto your father’s bed, onto my couch and defiled it.”

Reuben lost his primogeniture because he slept with Jacob’s wife. Earlier, the text records, “While Israel was living in that region, Reuben went in and slept with his father’s concubine Bilhah, and Israel heard of it” (Gen. 35:22).

Simeon and Levi

(49:5-7) “Simeon and Levi are brothers—their swords are weapons of violence. 6 Let me not enter their council, let me not join their assembly, for they have killed men in their anger and hamstrung oxen as they pleased. 7 Cursed be their anger, so fierce, and their fury, so cruel! I will scatter them in Jacob and disperse them in Israel.”

Jacob curses Simeon and Levi for their excessive violence and anger (see Gen. 34:25). Jacob scatters them in with the other sons, and they receive no land in Israel. This eventually is fulfilled in the fact that the tribe of Simeon “virtually disappears from the biblical narratives after the time of the Conquest” and the tribe of Levi “given the responsibility of the priesthood and hence was not given its own inheritance in the apportioning of the land.”[17]

Judah

(49:8-12) “Judah, your brothers will praise you; your hand will be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s sons will bow down to you. 9 You are a lion’s cub, Judah; you return from the prey, my son. Like a lion he crouches and lies down, like a lioness—who dares to rouse him? 10 The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he to whom it belongs shall come and the obedience of the nations shall be his. 11 He will tether his donkey to a vine, his colt to the choicest branch; he will wash his garments in wine, his robes in the blood of grapes. 12 His eyes will be darker than wine, his teeth whiter than milk.”

Judah gets the kingship.

(Gen. 49:10) Was Jacob predicting Jesus in this passage? The “scepter” refers to the kingly line. Kings would carry around a big scepter as a sign of their authority. Jacob tells his twelve sons that the scepter (the kingly line) will not “depart from Judah,” who was one of the twelve boys.

Does this passage predict the Davidic line? Yes, if this passage refers to the Messiah, then it predicted the Davidic, messianic line hundreds of years before David ever lived. God told David that one of his descendants would rule on the throne of Israel (2 Sam. 7:11-16). David was the distant ancestor of Judah (1 Chron. 2:3-15).

The NASB translates this as “until Shiloh comes.” However, this is a hyper-literal translation. This should be rendered “until he to whom it belongs. This is true for several reasons:

First, many ancient Jewish sources understand this as a messianic prophecy. Consider several examples:

  1. The Septuagint states that this should be translated as “the one to whom it belongs.”[18]
  2. The Dead Sea Scrolls understand this to be a messianic prophecy. One excerpt states, “The sceptre [shall not] depart from the tribe of Judah . . . [Gen 49:10]. Whenever Israel rules, there shall [not] fail to be a descendant of David upon the throne. For the ruler’s staff is the covenant of kingship, [and the clans] of Israel are the divisions, until the Messiah of Righteousness comes, the Branch of David. For to him and his seed is granted the Covenant of kingship over his people for everlasting generations.”[19]
  3. The Targum Onkelos (first-century AD) understands this to be a messianic prophecy: “The transmission of dominion shall not cease from the house of Judah, nor the scribe from his children’s children, forever, until the Messiah comes, to whom the kingdom belongs, and whom nations shall obey.”[20]

Second, this passage predicts that the kingly line would come through Judah. Because David was the ancestor of Judah (1 Chron. 2:3-15), this fits this interpretation. David was a prototype of the Messiah (Ezek. 34:23-24; 37:24; Jer. 23:5; 30:9). Moreover, all of the nations obey this person in this passage (“to him shall be the obedience of the peoples”), which is a messianic indicator.

Third, this same phrase (“until the coming of the one to whom it belongs”) is repeated almost verbatim in Ezekiel 21. Here, King Zedekiah is told to “take off the crown” and give it to the one “whose right it is” (Ezek. 21:26-27). Zedekiah was the last recorded king of Judah. Jesus ultimately fulfills (or will fulfill) this passage in Ezekiel, because he is the only one who has the right to wear the kingly crown.

Zebulun

(49:13) “Zebulun will live by the seashore and become a haven for ships; his border will extend toward Sidon.”

Zebulun will be in the sea trade. This tribe didn’t have a border with the sea (Josh. 19:10-16). However, the Hebrew word Zebulun means “lofty abode,” and it could imply that “the extension of the Promised Land into the ‘far recesses’ (yarḵāṯô; ‘his border’) of Sidon.”[21]

Issachar

(49:14-15) “Issachar is a rawboned donkey lying down among the sheep pens. 15 When he sees how good is his resting place and how pleasant is his land, he will bend his shoulder to the burden and submit to forced labor.”

He will be a laborer.

Dan

(49:16-17) “Dan will provide justice for his people as one of the tribes of Israel. 17 Dan will be a snake by the roadside, a viper along the path, that bites the horse’s heels so that its rider tumbles backward.”

He will be venomous like a snake. Sailhamer[22] understands this as positive—meaning that he will be the source of “deliverance” for the nation (v.18).

Gad

(49:18-19) “I look for your deliverance, LORD. 19 Gad will be attacked by a band of raiders, but he will attack them at their heels.”

“I look for your deliverance, LORD.” Jacob pleads with God that he would somehow redeem his dysfunctional family (v.18).

Gad will fight back and forth with marauders.

Asher

(49:20) “Asher’s food will be rich; he will provide delicacies fit for a king.”

Asher will enjoy “great abundance and rich delicacies.”[23]

Naphtali

(49:21) “Naphtali is a doe set free that bears beautiful fawns.”

Like Asher, Naphtali will enjoy a “great future prosperity and abundance.”[24]

Joseph

(49:22-26) “Joseph is a fruitful vine, a fruitful vine near a spring, whose branches climb over a wall. 23 With bitterness archers attacked him; they shot at him with hostility. 24 But his bow remained steady, his strong arms stayed limber, because of the hand of the Mighty One of Jacob, because of the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel, 25 because of your father’s God, who helps you, because of the Almighty, who blesses you with blessings of the skies above, blessings of the deep springs below, blessings of the breast and womb. 26 Your father’s blessings are greater than the blessings of the ancient mountains, than the bounty of the age-old hills. Let all these rest on the head of Joseph, on the brow of the prince among his brothers.”

Joseph is blessed for his perseverance.

Benjamin

(49:27) “Benjamin is a ravenous wolf; in the morning he devours the prey, in the evening he divides the plunder.”

Benjamin will be a fighter.

Summary

(49:28-33) All these are the twelve tribes of Israel, and this is what their father said to them when he blessed them, giving each the blessing appropriate to him. 29 Then he gave them these instructions:

“I am about to be gathered to my people. Bury me with my fathers in the cave in the field of Ephron the Hittite, 30 the cave in the field of Machpelah, near Mamre in Canaan, which Abraham bought along with the field as a burial place from Ephron the Hittite. 31 There Abraham and his wife Sarah were buried, there Isaac and his wife Rebekah were buried, and there I buried Leah. 32 The field and the cave in it were bought from the Hittites.” 33 When Jacob had finished giving instructions to his sons, he drew his feet up into the bed, breathed his last and was gathered to his people.

Once again, Jacob reminded Joseph and the rest of his sons that he did not want to be buried in Egypt (cf. Gen. 47:29-30). He wanted to be buried in Israel along with Abraham and Isaac (Gen. 23).

Questions for Reflection

Which of the sons received a positive blessing from Jacob?

Which received a negative prophecy?

Is there any rhyme or reason for why some received a positive blessing, while others receive a negative one?

Genesis 50 (Joseph’s insight into God’s sovereignty)

(50:1-3) Joseph threw himself on his father and wept over him and kissed him. 2 Then Joseph directed the physicians in his service to embalm his father Israel. So the physicians embalmed him, 3 taking a full forty days, for that was the time required for embalming. And the Egyptians mourned for him seventy days.

Not only did Joseph mourn his father’s death, but so did the Egyptians. He went on to follow the Egyptian practice of having his father embalmed. This was probably so the body could make the trip back to Canaan.

(50:4-14) When the days of mourning had passed, Joseph said to Pharaoh’s court, “If I have found favor in your eyes, speak to Pharaoh for me. Tell him, 5 ‘My father made me swear an oath and said, “I am about to die; bury me in the tomb I dug for myself in the land of Canaan.” Now let me go up and bury my father; then I will return.’”

6 Pharaoh said, “Go up and bury your father, as he made you swear to do.”

7 So Joseph went up to bury his father. All Pharaoh’s officials accompanied him—the dignitaries of his court and all the dignitaries of Egypt—8 besides all the members of Joseph’s household and his brothers and those belonging to his father’s household. Only their children and their flocks and herds were left in Goshen. 9 Chariots and horsemen also went up with him. It was a very large company. 10 When they reached the threshing floor of Atad, near the Jordan, they lamented loudly and bitterly; and there Joseph observed a seven-day period of mourning for his father.

11 When the Canaanites who lived there saw the mourning at the threshing floor of Atad, they said, “The Egyptians are holding a solemn ceremony of mourning.” That is why that place near the Jordan is called Abel Mizraim. 12 So Jacob’s sons did as he had commanded them: 13 They carried him to the land of Canaan and buried him in the cave in the field of Machpelah, near Mamre, which Abraham had bought along with the field as a burial place from Ephron the Hittite. 14 After burying his father, Joseph returned to Egypt, together with his brothers and all the others who had gone with him to bury his father.

Joseph asked permission from Pharaoh to go bury his father in Canaan, which was Jacob’s dying request. It’s possible that Pharaoh might’ve taken this act as insulting. We can imagine him saying, “Do you think you’re better than the Egyptians? Why do you refuse to bury your father on our land?” This could explain why Joseph needed to explain Jacob’s dying wishes.

Joseph must have been having a hard time in mourning for his dad. While the story ended well, he still missed out on over two decades with his father. This must have been a bittersweet ending for him.

(50:15) When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?”

Even after all of this grace, the brothers are still waiting for God to punish them. They must’ve thought that Joseph was just playing nice in front of their father. However, now that Jacob was dead, perhaps Joseph would have them all killed. This is the sign of a person who lives with a perpetual guilty conscience: They continue to think that punishment is just around the corner.

(50:16-18) So they sent word to Joseph, saying, “Your father left these instructions before he died: 17 ‘This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.” When their message came to him, Joseph wept. 18 His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. “We are your slaves,” they said.

“Your father left these instructions… Forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed.” No record exists of Jacob giving this posthumous message about Joseph needing to forgive his brothers. This sounds like the brothers invented this. This shows that they don’t understand forgiveness. Forgiveness isn’t something that can be forced; it’s something that needs to be freely chosen.

“Joseph wept.” Why made Joseph weep? It must be the fact that his family is still so dysfunctional. His brothers have such a low view of Joseph and God that they lie to Joseph to guilt him into forgiving them.

“We are your slaves.” This fulfills Joseph’s dream (Gen. 37:5-11). However, this isn’t the relationship that Joseph wanted with his brothers. He didn’t want to be their slave master; he just wanted to be their brother.

(50:19-21) But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? 20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. 21 So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.

This broke Joseph’s heart to hear. So, he broke down weeping (v.17), and he spoke kindly to his brothers. He also explained the great revelation of this whole story: God is sovereign and worked behind the scenes (Gen. 50:20).

(50:22-23) Joseph stayed in Egypt, along with all his father’s family. He lived a hundred and ten years 23 and saw the third generation of Ephraim’s children. Also the children of Makir son of Manasseh were placed at birth on Joseph’s knees.

“He lived a hundred and ten years.” This was the ideal life span for an Egyptian—symbolic for wisdom or blessing. Egyptologist James Hoffmeier writes, “More than thirty references are known from Egyptian texts in which a 110-year life span is mentioned. It was a symbolic figure for a distinguished sagely man. One such example is Ptahhotep, who left to posterity a wisdom text from c. 2320 BC. Another individual was Amenhotep, son of Hapu, who served Pharaoh Amenhotep III (1390-1352 BC). Often references to 110 years appear in prayers or wishes such as, ‘May I reach 110 years on earth such as every righteous man,’ and ‘May he [the god Amun] give me the 110 years as to every living righteous man.’ Could it be that Joseph’s age at death reflects the use of this Egyptian honorific number that represented the ideal life?”[25]

(50:24-26) Then Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die. But God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land he promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” 25 And Joseph made the Israelites swear an oath and said, “God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up from this place.26 So Joseph died at the age of a hundred and ten. And after they embalmed him, he was placed in a coffin in Egypt.

“You must carry my bones up from this place.” Even though God had provided so much for Joseph in Egypt, he knew that God wanted his people back in Canaan. The author of Hebrews ties this in with the “seen” (i.e. blessings of Egypt) and the “unseen” (i.e. God’s promise through the Abrahamic Covenant). Joseph was able to see that God’s promise was more valuable than the comforts or success of Egypt (Heb. 11:22).

Questions for Reflection

What would’ve happened if Joseph refused to forgive his brothers?

Read 16-21. What do we learn about forgiveness from this section?

[1] John H. Sailhamer, “Genesis,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1990), 227.

[2] John H. Sailhamer, “Genesis,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1990), 228.

[3] James Hoffmeier, The Archaeology of the Bible (Oxford: Lion, 2008), 46.

[4] John H. Sailhamer, “Genesis,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1990), 232.

[5] James Hoffmeier writes, “The type of work they did is also included. Several are labeled as hry-pr, literally ‘over the house.’ When Joseph enters Potiphar’s service, he is said to be ‘over his house’ (Genesis 39:4), this is, a household servant.” James Hoffmeier, The Archaeology of the Bible (Oxford: Lion, 2008), 46.

[6] John H. Sailhamer, “Genesis,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1990), 235.

[7] Bromiley writes, “The Hebrew word for ‘magician’ used in Gen. 41:8, hartummim, is from Egypt (hry-hbt) hry-tp.” Geoffrey William Bromiley, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1982), 1128.

[8] Gleason L. Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Third Edition. Chicago, IL: Moody, 1998), p.119.

[9] James Hoffmeier, The Archaeology of the Bible (Oxford: Lion, 2008), 46.

[10] John H. Sailhamer, “Genesis,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1990), 253.

[11] John H. Sailhamer, “Genesis,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1990), 261.

[12] John H. Sailhamer, “Genesis,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1990), 270-271.

[13] John H. Sailhamer, “Genesis,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1990), 272.

[14] John H. Sailhamer, “Genesis,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1990), 275.

[15] John H. Sailhamer, “Genesis,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1990), 275.

[16] John H. Sailhamer, “Genesis,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1990), 279.

[17] John H. Sailhamer, “Genesis,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1990), 276.

[18] Walter C. Kaiser, The Messiah in the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Pub., 1995), 51-52.

[19] Geza Vermes, The Dead Sea Scrolls in English (4th ed. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic, 1995), 302. 4Q252.

[20] Tom Huckel, The Rabbinic Messiah (Philadelphia: Hananeel House, 1998), see Genesis 49:10.

[21] John H. Sailhamer, “Genesis,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1990), 277.

[22] John H. Sailhamer, “Genesis,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1990), 278.

[23] John H. Sailhamer, “Genesis,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1990), 278.

[24] John H. Sailhamer, “Genesis,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1990), 278.

[25] James Hoffmeier, The Archaeology of the Bible (Oxford: Lion, 2008), 48.