The book of Genesis closes with the story of Jacob’s 12 sons focusing specifically on Joseph (Genesis 37 -50). It tells how the people of Israel found themselves in Egypt prior to the Exodus.
Jacob has settled back in Canaan and had 12 sons via his two wives, Leah and Rachel as well as their maidservants who they give to him as concubines. Rachel, his first and greater love has provided him with two of the sons, Joseph and Benjamin.
Joseph Dreams (Genesis 37: 1-11)
Joseph is 17 years old and working for his half-brothers, those born to the servants. He reports on their bad behaviour to his father. He is loved and favoured by Jacob who gives him a special robe. This may have been multi-coloured or long sleeved. He is hated by his brothers.
Joseph has two dreams these clearly point to his brothers and his parents bowing down to him. This makes his brothers hate him even more.
It is tempting to present this as a cautionary tale about favouritism and a petulant, immature boy who winds his brothers up. However, there is no evidence to suggest we should read the story that way. Rather in Joseph, we can look on one who is a “type of Christ.” Joseph is the beloved Son and therefore worthy of honour.
Joseph is sold into slavery (Genesis 37: 12-36)
Joseph’s brothers are working in Shechem. Jacob sends Joseph to visit. They plot against him and plan to kill him. Reuben tries to preserve Joseph. They have him thrown into a cistern instead of killing him but under Judah’s leadership later sell him to Ishmaelite traders who take him to Egypt where he finds himself in the service of Potiphar, captain of the palace guard.
Here again, we are pointed towards Joseph as a type of Christ. Just as in the parable of the wicked tenants, the son is sent and the farmers plot against him to kill him, so too here, the beloved son is plotted against, shamed, cast down and exiled.
Interlude – Judah and Tamar (Genesis 38)
Meanwhile back in Canaan, Judah marries a Canaanite and has children with her. However, when his oldest son marries (Tamar) he dies. She is passed to his second son, Onan in a Levirite marriage arrangement. Onan tries to avoid having offspring with her and God judges him so he dies. Judah in fear withholds his third son from her and sends her home. She then deceives Judah into sleeping with her, thinking she is a shrine prostitute, giving her offspring. Judah orders Tamar’s death when he finds out she is pregnant but when it is revealed that he is the father, confesses that she is more righteous than him.
This excurses may seem like a strange interruption here. However, in the wider context of Torah and history books, we note that this links into a larger theme. Read through to the end of 2 Samuel and you will notice that there is tension through the story between Benjamin and Judah. This rivalry is focused down onto the house of David and the house of Saul. We would expect the story to lead to Saul’s family being favoured because Benjamin represents Jacob’s loved sons whilst Judah displays poor character and his family tree is “messy.” However, God chooses to work through the flawed family line of Judah to bring not just a king but later the saviour.
Joseph tempted (Genesis 39)
Joseph works hard for Potiphar. God blesses his work and he is promoted within the household. Potiphar’s wife tries to seduce him but when he flees she accuses him of rape. Joseph is thrown into prison.
Joseph is not just a type of Christ but also the typical believer. Here we learn about the way that a believer should be dedicated, hardworking, seeking to honour God so that they build a good reputation for godly living and trustworthiness. We are reminded to flee temptation. We also see that believers may face and have to endure false accusation. In the face of opposition and persecution, we are to remain faithful.
Joseph in prison (Genesis 40)
Whilst in prison, Joseph is joined by two f Pharaoh’s officials, his cup-bearer and baker. They dream and Joseph gives them God’s interpretation. The baker is executed and the cup-bearer restored to his position. Joseph asks the cup-bearer to remember him to Pharaoh but he forgets.
Pharaoh’s Dreams (Genesis 41)
Later, Pharaoh also dreams. The cup-bearer remembers Joseph’s gift and so Joseph is brought to the palace to interpret. The dreams promise 7 years of plenty and 7 years of famine. Pharaoh rewards Joseph not just for his interpretation but his wisdom about how to respond by placing him in charge of the famine relief project.
The dream scenes in chapter 40-41 remind us about God’s power to speak and our responsibility to listen. For believers today, we expect God to speak through Scripture. God’s revelation promises redemption and restoration but also warns about coming judgement. God’s revelation enables uus to live wisely in his world.
Brothers in Egypt (Genesis 42)
The famine reaches Canaan. Joseph’s 10 older brothers are sent by Jacob to find food. Joseph recognises them but they do not recognise him. He accuses them of being spies which they deny. He insists that they bring back Benjamin, the youngest to verify their story. Simeon is kept a prisoner. Jacob is reluctant to send them back and lose a second son.
God disciplines his children. Jacob’s sons are beginning to learn a difficult lesson as the consequences of their sin catch up with them.
Return to Egypt (Genesis 43)
However, the famine prevails and eventually they have to go back. Joseph welcomes the brothers and invites them to a meal with him.
Here we learn to see God’s providence at work. Jacob and the brothers may want to avoid returning to Egypt, the risk to Benjamin and further confrontation with the Egyptian ruler. However, God has another plan and uses circumstances to bring it about.
The Silver Cup (Genesis 44)
Joseph has his silver cup planted in Benjamin’s sack. This means when it is searched, Benjamin is threatened with imprisonment. Judah offers to take Benjamin’s place.
This seems to be where Judah gets it! Instead of acting against a bother for his own benefit, he is now prepared to step in to protect his brother. Judah is willing to be a substitute, representing and taking the place of his brother. I would suggest that it is here, that Judah steps into the kingly role and thus demonstrating the suitability of his line for that role and as the tribe from which the Messiah will come. This part of the story should clearly point us forward to Christ as the true substitute who takes our place.
Joseph’s true Identity (Genesis 45)
In response to this – a clear sign of change and lessons learnt, Joseph now reveals his true identity to the brothers. He then arranges for Jacob and the whole family to come and live in Egypt.
Joseph shows us how to forgive. Part of forgiveness includes recognising God’s purpose and provision even in our suffering.
Off to Egypt (Genesis 46)
This chapter records the people who go to Egypt with Jacob. When they arrive, Joseph arranges for them to settle in Goshen.
Here we see a little bit of Biblical Theology unfolding. The list of names is a reminder that God’s people are multiplying in line with the promise to Abraham. They are in exile but even still, God gives them a land to live in of their own, a home away from home.
Blessing Egypt, Blessing Pharaoh (Genesis 47)
Jacob blesses Pharaoh. The Egyptians and the wider nations are blessed by Joseph’s wise leadership throughout the famine.
Here is another opportunity to trace out Biblical Theology. This is a foretaste of Genesis 12:1-3’s fulfilment. God’s people are being a blessing to the nations and in that blessing is salvation.
Jacob blesses Ephraim and Manasseh (Genesis 48)
Joseph brings his two sons to Jacob to bless. However, Jacob gives the “firstborn blessing” to Manasseh instead of Ephraim. Joseph tries to correct him but Jacob stands by his action. Just as Jacob, the lesser son had received God’s blessing and the birthright, so too here, the second son receives it.
None of us were wise or strong. God has chosen the weak and foolish things
Jacob’s last will and testimony (Genesis 49)
Jacob calls his sons together and prophesies what will happen to them. Note that there are consequences for sin and a focus on character. Here, Judah is prophesied as the ruler and leader of Israel. The king will come from his line.
Here we trace out how the Gospel is being prepared for even back in Genesis.
God meant it for Good (Genesis 50)
Jacob dies and his sons mourn him. The brothers are afraid that Joseph will get his revenge on them now. However, Joseph tells them that “God meant it for good.” Before Joseph dies, he demonstrates hope in the promise of a land and therefore a return for God’s people to Canaan insisting that when the time comes, his remains go with the people.
The final verses remind us of the importance of trusting God’s promise and looking forward with real and certain hope.
The phrase “God meant it for good” sums up the whole section. Jacob’s sons have plotted evil in order to destroy Joseph but God has been at work so that all their plans work together for good and for God’s glory. Romans 8 reminds us that all things work together for the good of those who love the Lord. The ultimate expression of the truth found here is at Calvary. There men sought to kill Jesus, their purpose was for evil but God used their evil and murderous intent to bring about Christ’s sacrifice. Men meant it for evil/harm but God in Jesus intended it for good and for salvation.