From Genesis 35-37
This post is part of my bible in a year series.
Passage and Comments
We’ve only started the story of Joseph and here is my starting point;
37 Jacob lived in the land of his father’s sojournings, in the land of Canaan.
2 These are the generations of Jacob. (Gen 37.1-2)
‘Generations’. The English noun ‘generations’ represents the Hebrew תּוֹלֵדוֹת (Translit. toledot). The more prominent examples in Genesis are Gen 2.4 (Heavens); 5.1 (Adam); 6.9 (Noah); 11.10 (Shem); 11.27 (Terah); 25.19 (Isaac) and 37.2 (Jacob).
A significant story relating to Jacobs family is about to begin.
Joseph, being seventeen years old, was pasturing the flock with his brothers. He was a boy with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives. And Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father. (Gen 37.2)
‘Bad report’. Joseph is at odds with his brothers, bad mouthing them to his father. Bilhah and Zilpah are Jacobs concubines, given to Jacob by his wives Rachel and Leah to bear children for them (Gen 30.1f).
3 Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his sons, because he was the son of his old age. And he made him a robe of many colors. 4 But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him. (Gen 37.3-4)
‘Robe of many colours’. Jacob prefers one of his sons over the others. Which is why he gives the multicoloured coat to Joseph, but not the others. His actions would have understandable exasperated tensions between his sons.
His family is divided by favouritism and rivalry like his own generation.
5 Now Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers they hated him even more. 6 He said to them, “Hear this dream that I have dreamed:
7 Behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and behold, my sheaf arose and stood upright. And behold, your sheaves gathered around it and bowed down to my sheaf.”
8 His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Or are you indeed to rule over us?” So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words. (Gen 37.5-8)
‘Dream’, ‘Reign over us?’ Joseph pours kerosine into the fire by sharing with his brothers the dream he had. Not only has their father favoured Joseph, but none of them. Now Joseph is dreaming of them bowing down to him.
The dream sets its fulfillment in motion.
According to God’s sovereign purpose and plan, we later find out this will happen. Nothing happens by chance.
9 Then he dreamed another dream and told it to his brothers and said, “Behold, I have dreamed another dream. Behold, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.”
10 But when he told it to his father and to his brothers, his father rebuked him and said to him, “What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall I and your mother and your brothers indeed come to bow ourselves to the ground before you?”
11 And his brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the saying in mind. (Gen 37.9-11)
‘Bowing down to me’. Joseph has another dream and this time he tells his father as well as his brothers. With expected results. His father rebukes him for suggesting he and Josephs mother would bow down to him.
Dreams were taken seriously in the ancient near east.
‘Jealous of him’. His brothers become jealous of him. Jealous because of their fathers preference for Joseph and now these dreams which put them under Josephs future authority.
‘Kept the saying in mind’. Jacob rebuked Joseph for his audacity in saving he would bow down to him. But differently from the reaction of his brothers, Jacob kept the dream in mind. Probably thinking God is going to do something with Joseph.
We find in the next section Joseph’s brothers conspire against him, yet do not kill him due to Reuben and Judah’s intervention. Perhaps we should note even now, the occurrence and noting of Joseph’s dreams is an indicator even to first time hearers of this story that God is at work.
Story of Israel
Dreams in the ancient world were considered derived from the divine realm and were thus taken seriously. Dreams by prophets and kings often contained theophanies offering divine revelation. The ordinary dreams of common people were believed to contain omens that communicated information about what the gods were doing, though they usually made no reference to deity. Dreams were often filled with symbolism, necessitating an interpreter, though at times the symbols were reasonably self-evident. (Walton, J.H., 2001. Genesis, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.)
Story of Jesus
How would you have responded to Joseph? With jealousy? Or more like his father?
The jealousy experienced by Josephs brothers serve as an example for how jealousy can deprave a person. Josephs brothers did not just want what Joseph had; they wanted to ruin him. Jealousy led Josephs brothers to sell him into slavery.
I’m sure Jesus would include jealousy as one of the defiling thoughts which can come out of a persons heart.
20 And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. 21 For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (Mk 7.20-23)
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