GENESIS 37 – 38









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Now Jacob dwelt in the land where his father was a stranger, in the land of Canaan. This is the history of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was feeding the flock with his brothers. And the lad was with the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father's wives; and Joseph brought a bad report of them to his father. Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age. Also he made him a tunic of many colors. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peaceably to him. Genesis 37:1-4




This family dynamic sounds familiar, does it not? We have seen it before, in Isaac and Rebekah’s home. Favoritism is a very bad thing. You will remember that the Scripture said … Isaac loved Esau but Rebekah loved Jacob. And, in the end, their home was literally torn apart by their partiality. Now, we see that the practice has carried over to the Jacob and Rachel home, as well. The hands down favorite son of Jacob was Rachel’s boy, Joseph. This would become the impetus for all the "bad blood" that was to follow.


Additional fuel to the fire came about when Joseph brought a bad report to his father about the poor work habits of his four half-brothers Dan, Naphtali, Gad and Asher. Then, to top it all off, Jacob gave a beautiful new, many-colored coat to Joseph. It made Joseph stand out like a sore thumb in the eyes of his brothers. That was the last straw and the end result was that Jacob’s other sons hated Joseph and could not speak peaceably to him. They didn’t care for this kid one bit. In fact, they couldn’t even bring themselves to speak civilly to him.



Now Joseph had a dream, and he told it to his brothers; and they hated him even more. So he said to them, 'Please hear this dream which I have dreamed: There we were, binding sheaves in the field. Then behold, my sheaf arose and also stood upright; and indeed your sheaves stood all around and bowed down to my sheaf.' And his brothers said to him, 'Shall you indeed reign over us? Or shall you indeed have dominion over us?' So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words. Then he dreamed still another dream and told it to his brothers, and said, 'Look, I have dreamed another dream. And this time, the sun, the moon, and the eleven stars bowed down to me.' So he told it to his father and his brothers; and his father rebuked him and said to him, 'What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall your mother and I and your brothers indeed come to bow down to the earth before you?' And his brothers envied him, but his father kept the matter in mind. Genesis 37:5-11




During this time in human history, God often communicated through dreams. These dreams were vivid, awesome and unforgettable. Joseph received two such dreams, but what they conveyed was destined to be greatly resented by his family. To complicate matters, Joseph was only seventeen years old at the time and the pronouncements of seventeen-year olds are frequently considered immature, self-centered and naive. However, Joseph was being none of these things when he told his dreams to his family. Nevertheless, they took them badly. It really rankled them that his dreams clearly proclaimed that Jacob and Rachel and all of their children would one day be under Joseph’s authority ... even bowing down to him, no less! The dreams, however, being from God, would be fulfilled to the letter. Israel (Jacob) himself had experienced such dreams. So, although he didn’t like what he heard, he took note and did not forget what Joseph had told them.




Then his brothers went to feed their father's flock in Shechem. And Israel said to Joseph, 'Are not your brothers feeding the flock in Shechem? Come, I will send you to them.' So he said to him, 'Here I am.' Then he said to him, 'Please go and see if it is well with your brothers and well with the flocks, and bring back word to me.' So he sent him out of the Valley of Hebron, and he went to Shechem. Now a certain man found him, and there he was, wandering in the field. And the man asked him, saying, 'What are you seeking?' So he said, 'I am seeking my brothers. Please tell me where they are feeding their flocks.' And the man said, 'They have departed from here, for I heard them say, "Let us go to Dothan."' So Joseph went after his brothers and found them in Dothan. Genesis 37:12-17




This reminds me of that scripture that says, The steps of a good man are ordered of the Lord (Ps. 37:23). Young Joseph was just out there in the fields, wandering around aimlessly, not knowing where to look, and then, seemingly out of nowhere, there was a man who saw his predicament and pointed out the way for him. Some would call this coincidence. Others would say it was just dumb luck. However, for the child of God, it is never either one of those things, aye? Never has been. Never will be.



Now when they saw him afar off, even before he came near them, they conspired against him to kill him. Then they said to one another, 'Look, this dreamer is coming! Come therefore, let us now kill him and cast him into some pit; and we shall say, "Some wild beast has devoured him." We shall see what will become of his dreams!' But Reuben heard it, and he delivered him out of their hands, and said, 'Let us not kill him.' And Reuben said to them, 'Shed no blood, but cast him into this pit which is in the wilderness, and do not lay a hand on him'; that he might deliver him out of their hands, and bring him back to his father. Genesis 37:18-22




What an awful moment this was for the family of Israel! When hatred and jealousy reign in the hearts of men and women, all to often ... murder is invited in. This is what makes us humans such dangerous creatures. As sinners, each and every one of us possess the potential for the most heinous of acts. No? Take care. The scripture says … If any man thinks he stands, let him take heed lest he fall (I Cor. 10:12).


Now Reuben, the eldest son, overheard his brothers’ wicked plot and attempted to intervene for Joseph. He suggested, No, let's not kill him ourselves. Let's just throw him in a pit and leave him there to die. His argument was … If we do it that way, technically, his blood won’t be on our hands! The brothers liked Reuben’s idea and went for it. In reality, however, Reuben intended to save Joseph from the pit and take him back home to his father, Israel. Now, up to this point, we’ve read some bad things about Reuben. For instance, in the last chapter we read how he deliberately had sex with his father’s concubine, Bilhah ... probably, to eliminate the last vestige of influence of Rachael from Israel's thinking. Anyway, in planning to rescue his little brother here, he is definitely doing a good thing. Shakespeare said, The evil men do lives on but the good is oft interred with their bones. That quote brings Reuben to my mind.




So it came to pass, when Joseph had come to his brothers, that they stripped Joseph of his tunic, the tunic of many colors that was on him. Then they took him and cast him into a pit. And the pit was empty; there was no water in it. And they sat down to eat a meal. Then they lifted their eyes and looked, and there was a company of Ishmaelites, coming from Gilead with their camels, bearing spices, balm, and myrrh, on their way to carry them down to Egypt. So Judah said to his brothers, 'What profit is there if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come and let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother and our flesh.' And his brothers listened. Then Midianite traders passed by; so the brothers pulled Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt. Genesis 37:23-28






There was not an ounce of mercy in these brothers of Joseph. Even though they could hear their little brother's cries, they simply went about eating supper as usual. While they were eating, a caravan of Ishmaelites came by, heading down to Egypt to trade. This gave Judah an idea. Hey, we could get some money for Joseph. Let's sell the little brat! He will be a slave for the rest of his life, we’ll get some money and we will not be guilty of killing our brother! It was the best idea yet, and the brothers quickly agreed, knowing full well that they were condemning Joseph to a form of living death. Shortly after, another caravan came by, and pulling Joseph out of the pit, they sold him for twenty shekels of silver.


Before we move on, let's explore a question here. Where do you think God was in all of this? Shouldn't he have stepped in and protected Joseph? Wasn't he aware of what was going on? The answer is, God was in perfect control of the whole situation. In fact, this was part of God's plan to get his people into Egypt, and then, to deliver them out of Egypt ... 400 years later ... with great power and glory. Years later, Joseph would tell his brothers … You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good. Dear Saint, we must not be too quick to judge God for the circumstances of our lives. Our God is sovereign and all wise and he knows what he is doing. He has his own ways and his own purposes in your life and mine. So, no matter what the circumstances, we can always count on his direction and care. As you have it in Romans 8:28,


And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.


And again, in Ephesians 1:11,


In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will...


Question is ... Can you and I trust him for the things that happen in our life? The answer is, Yes, absolutely! In fact, I believe that is just what Joseph did. There is not one recorded word in the Bible of Joseph ever complaining … or doubting … or blaming God for what happened to him. Oh, that you and I could trust God with such unwavering faith, aye? 


Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths. Proverbs 3:5-6




Then Reuben returned to the pit, and indeed Joseph was not in the pit; and he tore his clothes. And he returned to his brothers and said, 'The lad is no more; and I, where shall I go?' So they took Joseph's tunic, killed a kid of the goats, and dipped the tunic in the blood. Then they sent the tunic of many colors, and they brought it to their father and said, 'We have found this. Do you know whether it is your son's tunic or not?' And he recognized it and said, 'It is my son's tunic. A wild beast has devoured him. Without doubt Joseph is torn to pieces.' Then Jacob tore his clothes, put sackcloth on his waist, and mourned for his son many days. And all his sons and all his daughters arose to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted, and he said, 'For I shall go down into the grave to my son in mourning.' Thus his father wept for him. Now the Midianites had sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh and captain of the guard. Genesis 37:29-36




Reuben was not present when his brothers sold Joseph to the Midianites. He had planned to rescue him. When he found out that it was too late, he was in great despair. Also, he feared what his father would do to him because he, being the oldest, would be held responsible. So, he and his brothers devised a plan. It was quite clever, actually. They took and dipped Joseph's beautiful new coat of many colors in some goat blood and tore it up and then, when they got back home, they showed it to Jacob. They told him they found it that way. Jacob then assumed the boy had been killed by wild animals. Their plan worked, but Jacob was inconsolable. Joseph was Jacob’s first born son, by his beloved and now deceased wife, Rebekah. Nothing could have happened in Jacob's life that could have been worse than losing this boy. It was an irony that Jacob, who tricked his own father with a baby goat skin, was now, himself, tricked by the blood of a baby goat! What do you make of that? Might it be a fulfillment of the scripture that says … for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap (Galatians 6:7b)?





Let’s step aside here for a moment. You know, it is not good for a child of God to be inconsolable after the death of a loved one. It presents a picture to the world of the hopelessness that only those who have no hope should exhibit. As you have it in First Thessalonians 4:13,


But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope.


There is certainly nothing wrong with sorrow and tears over the death of a loved one. But we believers are not to carry on like those who have no hope. Our sorrow should be less and of shorter duration than the ungodly. After all, we know the truth about death and about Heaven and the resurrection and the world to come and we know exactly where our loved ones went when they died. David's grief over the death of his baby, recorded in  Second Samuel 12, is a good case in point. After the baby died, David’s servants were shocked when David shed his clothes of mourning, washed up and called for something to eat. When asked about it, David replied,


While the child was alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, ‘Who can tell whether the LORD will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ But now he is dead; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me. II Samuel 12:22-23


Jacob didn't do very well in this department. The loss of his favorite son struck deep and, in his mind, it was irreversibly horrendous. He said, I shall go down into the grave to my son in mourning.


The chapter ends by informing us that Joseph arrived in Egypt and was sold into the house of Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh and captain of Pharaoh's guard. Young Joseph's ordeal had just begun.




It came to pass at that time that Judah departed from his brothers, and visited a certain Adullamite whose name was Hirah. And Judah saw there a daughter of a certain Canaanite whose name was Shua, and he married her and went in to her. So she conceived and bore a son, and he called his name Er. She conceived again and bore a son, and she called his name Onan. And she conceived yet again and bore a son, and called his name Shelah. He was at Chezib when she bore him. Then Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. But Er, Judah's firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the LORD, and the LORD killed him. And Judah said to Onan, 'Go in to your brother's wife and marry her, and raise up an heir to your brother.' But Onan knew that the heir would not be his; and it came to pass, when he went in to his brother's wife, that he emitted on the ground, lest he should give an heir to his brother. And the thing which he did displeased the LORD; therefore He killed him also. Genesis 38:1-10




Here at the beginning of chapter 38, we come to an entirely different story that, seemingly, is just stuck in here in the middle of the story of Joseph. At first glance, it appears to be totally unrelated. However, it is of great importance and, chronologically, it fits here. That’s because, at the very same time that Joseph was settling into Potiphar’s household in Egypt, a very important event was taking place back home in Canaan. It was an event that would affect Messiah’s line and it involved Joseph's big brother, Judah. It is the story of the birth of Perez. Perez would become a direct link in the line that would lead to the birth of Christ Jesus. He is listed in Jesus' genealogy in Matthew 1:3...


And Judas (Judah) begat Phares (Perez) and Zara of Thamar; and Phares begat Esrom; and Esrom begat Aram;


Now Hirah, the Adullamite, was Judah's friend. And, while hanging out with Hirah, Judah saw a Canaanite girl that he really took a fancy to and, subsequently, he married her. The fruit of their union was three children. The first two, turned out to be wicked to the core and ended up being killed by the Lord. Now, when the Word of God says someone was wicked, you can take it to the bank ... they were WICKED! The Bible tells us that the Lord does not take any pleasure in the death of the wicked, by the way (Ezek. 33:11). So, we can rest assured that Judah’s sons, Er and Onan, truly needed killing.


Now, Er left behind a wife named Tamar. And it was the custom, later incorporated into the Law (Deuteronomy 25:5), that if a woman was widowed and her husband had a living brother … that brother was obligated to marry his brother’s widow and have a child by her so that the deceased brother’s name could be carried on. When Er was killed by the Lord, his brother Onan inherited that responsibility. He was supposed to take Tamar in and he was to give her a baby. However, when Onan was having sex with Tamar, he disobediently ejaculated on the ground rather than to allow his brother's widow the opportunity to have an heir to carry on his brother’s name. His stubborn rebellion in this duty brought God’s judgment on him as well, and he too was killed by the Lord. We should not be shocked by these frank statements in the Bible, by the way. This is history. It is related to us, just as it actually happened. I, for one, am glad that the Bible consistently gives us all the facts … straight up, no holds barred. It pulls no punches when it speaks to the facts of history or the condition of sinners or what they did or what God did. Its faithful words are a blessing to everyone who loves the truth.



Then Judah said to Tamar his daughter-in-law, 'Remain a widow in your father's house till my son Shelah is grown.' For he said, 'Lest he also die like his brothers.' And Tamar went and dwelt in her father's house. Now in the process of time the daughter of Shua, Judah's wife, died; and Judah was comforted, and went up to his sheepshearers at Timnah, he and his friend Hirah the Adullamite. And it was told Tamar, saying, 'Look, your father-in-law is going up to Timnah to shear his sheep.' So she took off her widow's garments, covered herself with a veil and wrapped herself, and sat in an open place which was on the way to Timnah; for she saw that Shelah was grown, and she was not given to him as a wife. When Judah saw her, he thought she was a harlot, because she had covered her face. Then he turned to her by the way, and said, 'Please let me come in to you'; for he did not know that she was his daughter-in-law. So she said, 'What will you give me, that you may come in to me?' And he said, 'I will send a young goat from the flock.' So she said, 'Will you give me a pledge till you send it?' Then he said, 'What pledge shall I give you?' So she said, 'Your signet and cord, and your staff that is in your hand.' Then he gave them to her, and went in to her, and she conceived by him. Genesis 38:11-18




Having lost Onan, Tamar was now promised to a third brother and son of Judah. His name was Shelah. Problem was he was too young, at that time, to marry. Shelah? Reminds me of that Johnny Cash’s song, A Boy Named Sue! (ha) Sorry. I just couldn't resist. Anyway, Judah asked Tamar to wait until Shelah was mature enough for marriage. However, when that day came, he backed out of the deal and didn’t give Tamar to Shelah after all. In retaliation, Tamar put together a scheme to trick Judah, himself, into having sex with her … pretending that she was a harlot. Prostitutes, in those days, dressed opposite to what prostitutes do in our day. Apparently, a harlot back then was recognized by the fact that she covered herself up, rather than the reverse. So, Judah did not recognize her. In the negotiations for her services, it was agreed that the act would be worth a young goat from Judah's flock and that he would leave the pledge with her of his signet, cord and staff … until the goat had been delivered by Judah’s servants. Then, they had sex and, as a result, Tamar became pregnant and was vindicated of Judah's neglect to give her to his now grown son, Shelah. In addition, to protect herself, she didn't wait for the goat to arrive but, instead, just kept Judah's pledges.


Why is this story here? It is because, Messiah would come through the tribe of Judah. Jesus would one day come through Pharez, Judah’s son, by Tamar. The line continues on down through Boaz, by Ruth, to Obed and then to Jesse and then King David, the sweet Psalmist of Israel. A sordid account? Yes. But, it certainly accentuates the fact that Jesus was truly one of us, does it not? He came to associate with sinners and even became sin for us ... though he, himself, knew no sin, that we might become the righteousness of God in him (II Cor. 5:21). This account gives us a small taste of what it must have been like for him to stoop down to our level. And I, for one, am surely thankful that he did, aren't you? Jesus said,


But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance. Matthew 9:13






So she arose and went away, and laid aside her veil and put on the garments of her widowhood. And Judah sent the young goat by the hand of his friend the Adullamite, to receive his pledge from the woman's hand, but he did not find her. Then he asked the men of that place, saying, 'Where is the harlot who was openly by the roadside?' And they said, 'There was no harlot in this place.' So he returned to Judah and said, 'I cannot find her. Also, the men of the place said there was no harlot in this place.' Then Judah said, 'Let her take them for herself, lest we be shamed; for I sent this young goat and you have not found her.' And it came to pass, about three months after, that Judah was told, saying, 'Tamar your daughter-in-law has played the harlot; furthermore she is with child by harlotry.' So Judah said, 'Bring her out and let her be burned!' When she was brought out, she sent to her father-in-law, saying, 'By the man to whom these belong, I am with child.' And she said, Please determine whose these are; the signet and cord, and staff.' So Judah acknowledged them and said, 'She has been more righteous than I, because I did not give her to Shelah my son.' And he never knew her again. Genesis 38:19-26




When Judah learned what had actually happened, he agreed that he had been justly rebuked and that Tamar had been right in the action she had taken. Therefore, she was rescued and vindicated and a very fascinating twist in the Messianic line was written into history.




Now it came to pass, at the time for giving birth, that behold, twins were in her womb. And so it was, when she was giving birth, that the one put out his hand; and the midwife took a scarlet thread and bound it on his hand, saying, 'This one came out first.' Then it happened, as he drew back his hand, that his brother came out unexpectedly; and she said, 'How did you break through? This breach be upon you!' Therefore his name was called Perez. Afterward his brother came out who had the scarlet thread on his hand. And his name was called Zerah. Genesis 38:27-30




As it turns out, Tamar had twins but, during the birth process, Zerah stuck his hand out first and the midwife tied a scarlet thread around it thinking that that baby would be the firstborn. The scarlet thread was the midwife's system of ensuring that, during the births of multiples, the firstborn would not be mixed up with its siblings. As it turned out, however, it was Perez who actually came out first and was the firstborn ... negating the midwife's system. Obviously, this was from the Lord and was an unmistakable statement about which child the Lord had chosen to be an ancient progenitor of Christ. Perez's genealogy is also given in Ruth 4:18-22,


Now this is the genealogy of Perez: Perez begot Hezron; Hezron begot Ram, and Ram begot Amminadab; Amminadab begot Nahshon, and Nahshon begot Salmon; Salmon begot Boaz, and Boaz begot Obed; Obed begot Jesse, and Jesse begot David.



Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.



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