So we are back to dreams and the importance that dreams play in Scripture, especially dreams that are able to be interpreted. Keep in mind Joseph himself is a dreamer and God has already revealed to him in a dream what God is going to do in his life. So, when two other people have dreams he takes a crack at interpreting. Notice, that after the positive first interpretation the baker thought he might get a good one too. He probably wouldn’t have asked Joseph to interpret his dream if the cupbearer’s interpretation was negative. But he does, and what he says and how he interprets the dream actually happens just as he said.
But then the chapter ends with this ominous verse: Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him. So you have all of these instances where God never, ever forgets Joseph. You have affirmation after affirmation that Joseph is still on the heart of God. But when it comes to people, and this is a take away point, we will be forgotten. When it comes to God, we will never be forgotten. I think it is fairly poignant the statement from Joseph in vs.14 when he states: But remember me when it is well with you; please do me the kindness to make mention of me to Pharaoh, and so get me out of this place. We pretty much read what Joseph wants at this point in his life. Just to get out of prison!
The ongoing theme in the story of Joseph is that whatever is in his care, prospers. We find that happen within the house of Potiphar, to the point where his wife wants to spend some quality time with Joseph. But all throughout the story of Joseph we see that he always makes the correct decision. It seems like a lot of time has passed since we saw this uppity teenager. Now, instead, we find someone who is very mature. In fact, he is so mature that each person leaves all of their worries and their work to him and he does it. Potiphar leaves all that he has to Joseph to care for it, as does the jailer. So the cycle of trust begins again, but this time with Joseph in prison.
I hope you are able to see how the Lord is directing and guiding Joseph’s life. It was important for Joseph to be in Potiphar’s house in order to learn certain things. Even if it did lead to him to be in prison, that time was important. The same is going to be true for Joseph in prison. It is important for him to spend that time in prison. He has to learn something from this time in prison. This next chapter hopefully we will see what he learns.
The Bible can be quite graphic. There are certain parts that I want to say: TMI! We hear about Judah, who if you remember was the primary player in selling Joseph into slavery. His family seems quite dysfunctional. The Lord takes the life of one of his children because he did what was displeasing in the sight of the Lord. We don’t know what that is, but just that he was not in the good graces of the Lord, to the point where his life was required.
Then we have Jacob’s other son who is given Tamar, the wife of the son whose life was taken, and instead of giving her progeny, he takes steps to ensure that she would not be pregnant. This is the part of the story that we might be somewhat surprised by the detail. It is quite graphic, and it is also very displeasing to the Lord. As a result his life is also taken. Now we have Tamar who has been married to two of Jacob’s children, and both of them have died because the Lord is not pleased with them.
So, Jacob says enough, let’s just not let her marry any more of my sons, even though I do have one more. So I’m going to tell her that he isn’t old enough yet. Once he gets old, I’ll tell her, then she can marry him. But not really. So, as a result time passes and Tamar is not given in marriage to the son, as she is supposed to be. As a result she dresses up as a prostitute and sleeps with her father in law. The result of that tryst is the birth of twins. This just might be the definition of a dysfunctional family. What a mess! But we knew from the start that Jacob was not going to produce too much that was pleasing to the Lord.
So now we begin the story of Joseph. It is the most powerful story in all of Scripture next to the one of our Savior Jesus Christ. At least that is my take on it. We are currently studying in the young couples’ class Detours by Tony Evans and it is all about Joseph and how the detours in his life were arranged in such a way that God prepared him for the fulfillment of the promises that had been his people’s since God spoke to Abraham. We find in this story the insatiable desire of God to reach out and bring His people to a closer walk with him. Even when we are affected by the decisions of other people, or even when our decisions derail us for a moment, God brings us back on track.
The story begins with Joseph who just might be a bit proud, and so needs to be brought low. Okay, I get that, but being sold into slavery is a step that is quite far in order to provide humility for someone who might be a bit proud. Isn’t that almost overkill? Yet, the last sentence of this chapter prepares us for why he was sent to Israel, even if we don’t know the meaning of it until later. Look at vs.36 and you will see that he ends up in Egypt. As people who know the end of the story we know why he ends up in Egypt. Also, we see that he was sold to Potiphar, the captain of the guard. Again, it is just a random name at this point, but we will see later why it was so important that he was sold to Potiphar. The story is only going to get better as we go along.
The reason why it gets better is that we have seen the birth of Joseph, we have seen the brothers involved in all sorts of things. We see Joseph being the favored child of the father. He pursues them after sharing a couple of dreams that place him at the top of the pecking order, even though he was the second youngest. Their plot to kill him is foiled by Reuben. But then Judah makes an appearance, and it isn’t good. The bad news for Judah is that his presence only gets worse. You just wait until next chapter. So Joseph is introduced to us as a favored child who is hated by his brother, loved by his father, and sold into slavery while his father thinks he has died. The plot thickens and God keeps on providing opportunities for Joseph to learn and grow and become the person that he needs to become before he can save his family.
Notice how this chapter begins: This is the story of the family of Jacob. It does not being by saying that this is the story of Joseph. It says that this is the story of family of Jacob, who is saved by Joseph, but it isn’t about Joseph. It is about his family, the people of God, who are given a second chance because of what happens to Joseph.
This begins a long series of begats which we don’t normally find in Genesis, but find a lot more of in Numbers. But isn’t it interesting that we get so much detail about Esau who is not even the one who is part of the promised family. Yes, he did absolutely receive a blessing, but not the blessing upon which all blessings flow. Nevertheless, it is important to note that Esau was not seen as a bad guy at all. He was not the one who was preventing Jacob/Israel from doing anything, but rather his brother who had his own important progeny.
Notice over and over again we hear that Esau is Edom. We read that in vs.1, 8, 9, 19, and 43. But in vs.43 it seems like we have a bit of a redefinition as the author states: …according to their settlements in the land that they held. So is Esau Edom or is the area and the land in which he settled Edom? I think it is the latter. Edom is an area which is settled and founded by Esau, but the two also seem to be interchangeable. The only way we can find out that difference is if we look at the words in Hebrew. Edom is the Hebrew word for red. Do you remember what Esau means? Look at Genesis 25:25 and we see that reflected both in the birth and the name of Esau.
You can see the area that is being depicted in the picture below. Notice how close it is to what is considered modern day Israel. I have circled it in red. Actually most of it is in modern day Israel.
A lot happens in this chapter. You find the journey of Jacob that takes place, and you see how God has blessed him and goes with him wherever he goes. You see that for a second time God changes his name. First, when Jacob was under duress wrestling with the “man” and now, a second time, when things seemed to have calmed down. But no sooner has God spoken to him again and changed his name, that his beloved wife, Rachel, dies in childbirth. The child, Benjamin, makes it and his role in the Israel story is fairly significant. But somehow I had forgotten that Rachel died while she gave birth to Benjamin.
Notice that Rachel’s naming of this son means Son of my sorrow. Jacob, or Israel rather, was quick to change that to Son of the right hand, or son of the south.
Also thrown in this chapter is Reuben’s act of sleeping with his father’s concubine. We don’t hear of any repercussions or how Jacob reacts to this, just that it, well, happened. Remember Reuben is the eldest of the sons. Now, we do see in other places of Scripture where it does seem that he pays a price. If you look at I Chronicles 5:1 you see that his birthright is given to the sons of Joseph because he defiled his father’s bed. So Joseph ends up with the birthright. We also see in Jacob/Israel’s blessing in Genesis 49:3-4 that Reuben is told that he will excel no longer because he mounted his father’s couch. So one little sentence in this chapter leads to a whole myriad of repercussions that come up later on.
I love how both Jacob and Esau were present to bury their father…together. What a great sign of reconciliation.
So when we get to Joseph we can’t lose sight of this story of Dinah and her brothers. Remember, Joseph was also one of her brothers, but he does not figure in at all in this story. Notice how Jacob gets so upset with his sons because they brought trouble upon their house because of their act of vengeance. We assume in the Joseph story when Joseph goes to find his brothers they seem to be pretty far away, and it could be because they were not well received at all locally.
So the story is one of rape. Even if the king’s son ends up falling in love with Dinah, the story is about rape. There is no getting around that, and Shechem and his father try to get around that, but they would not allow it to happen. It is interesting to track the reaction of Jacob, Dinah’s father, and the brothers of Dinah. We only hear a couple things about Jacob and his reaction to his daughter’s rape. He waits until his sons get home to try to figure out what to do next. By then Hamor had come to him to try to win his daughter away and somehow the brothers must have overheard that their sister was raped. We don’t hear anything more about Jacob until after the brothers have completely decimated the city and the king and his son. Now Jacob actually speaks and he is chastising the sons because he is worried that as a result of this conquest the nations around him will gang up on him and wipe him out. Didn’t I mention last chapter that Jacob was a bit of a coward? His sons answer by saying: Yeah, we know, but no one lays hands on our sister. We need to keep this in mind as Joseph is about to come into the picture. Remember Joseph’s brothers and their tendencies. In this story the leaders of this plot are Simeon and Levi. See if their names come up at all in the Joseph story.
The meeting between Esau and Israel/Jacob takes place. Now, you wouldn’t know it, but Jacob had his name changed last chapter to Israel, but he is still called Jacob in this chapter, and I’m not really sure why. So, the meeting takes place and as a result Esau has become one of my favorite characters of the Bible. Sometimes it just amazes me and makes me think that God chose the wrong person to lead his people. Esau has class. He greets Jacob and not only does he greet him without malice, but he hugs his neck and offers to leave his men to protect Jacob as he makes his way forward toward Shechem.
As a result of this meeting Jacob can move forward with his life without having to look over his shoulder any more. He doesn’t have to worry about any day his brother coming to look for him to get vengeance. This story is over, Esau has forgiven him, Jacob has given him a good bit of his property, and it seems like it does make up for both the birthright and the blessing. One of my favorite scenes from this story is Esau hugging the neck of Jacob. What a scene! Do you see Joseph in the foreground? This is by Rubens who is my favorite painter in depicting animals.
I just get the feeling that Jacob is a bit of a coward after reading this chapter. He is commanded by God to go back to his home country, but the problem is that his brother, Esau, the one whom he cheated out of his father’s inheritance, is in his home country. Jacob is extraordinarily wealthy and yet he knows that his wealth is not going to protect him. He knows that if his brother wants to take him out he can. So when he hears that his brother is coming with 400 men he doesn’t round up his troops to get ready for battle. Instead, he rounds up a portion of his property in order to send it ahead of him as a present for his brother so that it would appease his anger.
He also sends his family, his wives and children, ahead of him so that Esau would meet them first before he would see the brother who might be the object of his wrath. I don’t know, it just feels like Jacob is a bit of a coward and this is the person who then becomes Israel and carries out the promises of God to allow a progeny to be issued from him. So once we have established that Jacob is getting ready for his encounter with Esau, we then see his encounter with God.
There are two places in this chapter where Jacob experiences and encounters God. The first is one that is never lifted up, but it is a great find. Look at vs. 1-2 where we see that Jacob sees the angels of God and they meet him so he calls that place God’s camp. This is an encounter with God which is welcomed. The next one, not so much. We can start at vs.24 and we see that a “man” wrestled with Jacob, and we don’t know why, but we do know that even if Jacob is a coward he is an excellent wrestler. He wrestles with this man and doesn’t let him go, even when the man “cheats” and throws his hips out of place. But this is the place where Jacob has his name changed to Israel. This word Israel means the one who strives with God. Remember that the next time you hear this word. The one who strives with God, or God strives. Jacob limps out of that camp no longer Jacob, changed completely to Israel.
The set up for Jacob running away from his father-in-law is interesting. Do you notice that he calls out to Rachel and Leah and asks them to meet him in the fields? It was probably the only place where the three of them could meet privately without anyone else being able to hear them. I will never forget living in Russia in a US Embassy apartment and seeing outside of our window in our gated yard other diplomats walking around the oval in which was found the playground because they knew that people were listening to what they were saying in their apartment. It was like living in a novel. But it was real. The same was true here. Jacob was only able to speak to his wives privately if they were out in the field and no one else is around.
So he shares with them the jealousy he thinks that Laban is feeling toward him. Isn’t it interesting that all these livestock are being born in a way that benefits me. I guess he didn’t tell anyone else about the whole poplar rods and how they worked to get the animals to be born a certain way. He kept that to himself, didn’t even tell his wives, who may have felt somewhat loyal to their father and told him of his methods. So he shares with them that it is time to leave, and the Lord came to him in a dream and told him to leave. The wives agree and are on board.
But…, Rachel takes her dad’s household gods. It is a little disappointing that Laban still has household gods, but it is very disappointing that Rachel needed the house hold gods. So from here they race off and seven days later Laban catches up to them. He searches the family and and the goods and doesn’t find his missing gods, after upbraiding Jacob for leaving without saying a word. Well, now it is time for Jacob to upbraid Laban for not trusting him and for thinking that he was a family of thieves. As a result of their upbraiding each other they build a pillar to commemorate the event.
Remember taking a road trip with your brothers and drawing an imaginary line in the middle of the seat and saying: do not cross this line. This side is mine and that side is yours. That is exactly what happens in this Scripture. Laban and Jacob draw a line and agree to stick to their sides. Now it is time for Esau to show up.