Genesis 37-39

Good morning! In today’s reading (Genesis 37-39) we begin the extended story of Jacob’s son Joseph, effectively a novella that will carry us through the end of this first book of the Bible.

Genesis 37 characterizes Joseph and describes the trouble between he and his brothers that sends Joseph to Egypt as a slave. Joseph is a favorite son of Jacob (who was himself the favorite son of Rebekah, and we have seen what strife that caused with Esau). Likewise, Jacob’s favoritism creates jealousy on the part of Joseph’s brothers (and he does himself no favors with his brash prophecies of ruling over them—though this foreshadows what WILL actually happen later in Egypt). Division between the brothers leads to their capture and sale of Joseph into slavery, then the falsification of his death to convince Jacob that Joseph has been killed. As the eldest son, Reuben carries extra responsibility for what happened to Joseph, but he missed the chance to save the teenager from his more impulsive and violent brothers. Remember that Simeon and Levi were the ringleaders for the assault on Shechem to avenge the dishonor to their sister Dinah.

Genesis 38 creates a pause in the Joseph narrative to highlight some of the (sexual) wrongdoings of Judah and his family. From the eyes of our narrator, the sins here include: 1) Judah marrying a Canaanite (read “foreigner”), 2) Judah’s son Onan refusing to make a baby with his dead brother’s wife (a child who might then carry on the dead man’s family lineage), 3) Judah’s failure to arrange for the proper care of the widow Tamar by his youngest son Shelah, and 4) Judah’s prostitution, later revealed by Tamar’s powerful revelation that this father-in-law is the father of her twin children. (The birth of Tamar’s boys carries forward the consistent theme of struggle between brothers and the reversal of birth order we have seen en earlier parts of Genesis.) From our own perspective, we see how harshly Tamar is treated, and find some measure of satisfaction in that she proves her righteousness over Judah.

One final note about this chapter: Tamar is one of only four women mentioned in the ancestry of Jesus according to Matthew’s gospel, and all four “shady ladies” (in the words of my New Testament professor) have some sort of checkered sexual history. In Jesus, God reclaims what might otherwise be stories of shame, transforming them into paths by which divinity is born into the world.

With the powerful brother Judah’s (negative) characterization complete, the narration in chapter 39 returns to Joseph in Egypt. Joseph experiences early success despite arriving in chains, but then is accused of molestation. In contrast to the earlier story where Judah’s clothing proves Tamar right, Joseph’s garment is used to convict him falsely. He is imprisoned by the end of the chapter, and we’ll pick up the story in tomorrow’s passage (Genesis 40-41). Happy reading!

Read Genesis 37-39.

Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. Thanks for reading!

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