Genesis 36–39: Cloaks & Lies

Read the Bible in 2023 ◊ Week 10: Monday

Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his sons, because he was the son of his old age; and he made him a varicolored tunic. His brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers; and so they hated him and could not speak to him on friendly terms.
Genesis 37:3–4

Monday’s Bible reading of Genesis 36–39, finishes the record of Esau and his descendants (the names in chapter 37, include some of the nation of Israel’s future enemies), and introduces the story of the life of Joseph, the first-born son of Rachel, the wife whom Jacob loved.

Although Joseph was Rachel’s first child, he was Jacob’s eleventh son. His ten older brothers had lived with the love and favoritism shown to Joseph’s mother, and they had to live with the love and favoritism shown to Joseph. Joseph’s dreams, in which they bowed down to him, brought their hatred and jealousy to a boil, and it brimmed over into murder when their father sent Joseph to them. Following on the heels of yesterday’s reading in 1 Corinthians, we see the extremes of jealousy in action.

So Joseph went after his brothers and found them at Dothan. And they saw him from a distance, and before he came close to them, they plotted against him to put him to death. Then they said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer! So now, come and let us kill him and cast him into one of the pits; and we will say, ‘A wild beast devoured him.’ Then let us see what will become of his dreams!”
But Reuben heard this and delivered him out of their hands and said, “Let us not strike down his life.” Reuben further said to them, “Shed no blood. Cast him into this pit that is in the wilderness, but do not put forth your hands against him”⁠—that he might deliver him out of their hands to return him to his father.
Genesis 37:17b-22 LSB

Joseph would have been killed without the intervention of the oldest son, Reuben, who realized the gravity and impact of their intention. They threw Joseph into a pit, but Reuben was not present when Judah suggested Joseph be sold as a slave. The brothers were not guilty of killing Joseph, but had no concern for Joseph’s welfare or regard for whether or not any stranger might kill him. Reuben had intended to return Joseph to their father, and was distraught to find Joseph was gone. The brothers then compounded their deed with a lie.

So they took Joseph’s tunic and slaughtered a male goat and dipped the tunic in the blood; and they sent the varicolored tunic and brought it to their father and said, “We found this; please recognize it⁠—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; Joseph has surely been torn to pieces!” So Jacob tore his clothes and put sackcloth on his loins and mourned for his son many days. Then all his sons and all his daughters arose to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. And he said, “Surely I will go down to Sheol in mourning for my son.” So his father wept for him.
Meanwhile, the Midianites sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, Pharaoh’s officer, the captain of the bodyguard.
Genesis 37:31-36 LSB

The brothers’ duplicity in reporting Joseph’s supposed death to their father revealed they had little desire to face him with the truth. I have to wonder if they had realized the extent to which this news would devastate their father.

Genesis 38 tells the story of Judah, his sons, and Tamar. Derek Kidner writes,

“As a piece of family history this chapter is important in settling the seniority within the tribe of Judah, and it contributes to the royal genealogy in Matthew 1:3; Luke 3:33. A rude interruption of the Joseph story it serves other purposes as well. It creates suspense for the reader, with Joseph’s future in the balance; it puts the faith and chastity of Joseph, soon to be described, in a context which sets off their rarity; and it fills out the portrait of the ten brothers.”1

Whatever Jacob’s shortcomings with his other sons—and they seem to have been quite extensive, given the character the older brothers exhibited—with Joseph he must have provided, not only love, but training and teaching about God.

Joseph’s reaction to adversity and temptation reveals his knowledge of God and his character. In Egypt, because God prospered Joseph, as a slave he became a steward to his master, Potiphar, with great responsibility and authority. He proved himself faithful to Potiphar, and righteous before God as he refused to sin in the face of persistent effort by Potiphar’s wife to ensnare him into committing adultery with her. She had her revenge by telling her husband that Joseph had attempted rape.

Now it happened that when his master heard the words of his wife, which she spoke to him, saying, “This is what your slave did to me,” his anger burned. So Joseph’s master took him and put him into the jail, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined; and he was there in the jail.
Genesis 39:19-20 LSB

My pastor, Mike Braun, conjectured that Potiphar’s rage might not have been against Joseph, but against his wife. Her accusations forced his hand to do something, but Potiphar may have accurately assessed her character and that of Joseph, and guessing the truth of the situation, chose to have Joseph imprisoned rather than executed, which would have been the more likely punishment for a slave’s attempted rape of the wife of a high-ranking official.

But Yahweh was with Joseph and extended lovingkindness to him and gave him favor in the sight of the chief jailer. So the chief jailer gave into the hand of Joseph all the prisoners who were in the jail; so that whatever was done there, he was the one who did it. The chief jailer did not supervise anything under Joseph’s hand because Yahweh was with him; and whatever he did, Yahweh made to succeed.
Genesis 39:21-23 LSB

Joseph was so young—in his upper teens—to experience the full fury of the murderous hatred of his brothers, to be separated from his father who loved him so, and then to turn around and find that despite his good stewardship for Potiphar he was falsely accused and imprisoned. Yet in all these things, far from home with no one he knew around him, he acted with responsibility and faithfulness before God. Joseph was tried in the extreme—even for an adult, much less for a young man—and found true. That’s why he has always been one of my favorite people in the Bible.

Silvesterzug Laterne: Bk muc. (CC BY-SA 4.0).
Joseph’s Coat Brought to Jacob: Giovanni Andrea de Ferrari. Public Domain.
Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife: Guido Reni. Public Domain.
1Derek Kidner, Genesis (Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove IL: 1967) 187.

I’m using Michael Coley’s Bible reading plan (one page PDF to print) to read through the Bible in 2023. Each day my posts are on different books because he divides Bible readings into seven categories, one for each day of the week: Epistles, The Law, History, Psalms, Poetry, Prophecy and Gospels. There’s more information on his plan and other ones at Read the Bible in 2023.

Copyright ©2021–2023 Iwana Carpenter

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