Thursday 19th January 2023

GENESIS 38 and 39

Jacob’s problems continue today when his son Judah moves away from the family, falls into bad company and then marries a Canaanite woman, with whom he has three sons.  This episode probably occurred whilst Joseph was in captivity in Egypt, and the bible contrasts Joseph’s moral integrity with Judah’s distinct lack of it.  Er, the firstborn married Tamar and he was so wicked (reason not given) that God put him to death.  The custom then was for the childless widow to marry the next brother, Onan, and any resulting child would belong to his dead brother and inherit that estate.  Onan was not keen on a divided inheritance and so he used an age-old contraceptive method to avoid Tamar getting pregnant.  For such deceit and duplicity, God put him to death also.  This left Tamar as a widow again, and so she was promised to the third son, Shelah once he was of marriageable age.

Much later, Judah himself became a widower and apparently began to spend time with prostitutes.  His daughter-in-law, Tamar, resentful that she had not been married to Shelah, set a ‘honeytrap’ for Judah and ended up pregnant by him.  The babies, Perez and Zerah were the result; Perez became part of the bloodline of King David (much later of course).

Whilst this was all going on, Chapters 39 and 40 refer to Joseph’s adventures in Egypt.  See the following for a more comprehensive summary of this great man, together with the wider meanings of his story:

  • Joseph was the eleventh son of Jacob, son of Isaac, son of Abraham.  He was the first son of his wife Rachel – who had been barren – and so Joseph was a miraculous, special child.
  • Jacob gave Joseph a multi-coloured ‘royal’ coat and loved him the most, making his other sons jealous and resentful.  God gave Joseph dreams and visions of his later kingship: the Sun, Moon, and eleven stars (including the unborn Benjamin!);  Joseph used his prophetic gift unwisely and so offended his brothers that they sold him, aged 17, into slavery in Egypt.
  • In Genesis 39, it says several times: “The Lord was with Joseph”; as a result he prospered in slavery, he prospered in prison, and he prospered in Pharaohs’ court.  One key moment was when he consciously brought God into his prison world (40:8) to help condemned prisoners.
  • The key moment of all was 41:15-16 when Joseph declared to Pharaoh: “I cannot do it, but God will give the answer”; aged 30, he humbled himself before God, who, in turn, raised up Joseph as his representative in ruling Egypt.  We see the Kingship of God through Joseph!
  • Later, Joseph’s humility and mature vision show through when he reassures his brothers:  “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives’ (Gen 50:2)
  • God’s sovereign choice was evident in Joseph’s whole life, even before he was born.
  • When a person is included in God’s covenant, his life will prosper in all situations.
  • Joseph learned quickly that powerful spiritual gifting needs equivalent wisdom to be genuinely effective; God only permits us to use his power when we are fully submitted to his authority and humble in our attitudes.
  • In many respects, Joseph is a foreshadow of Jesus Christ himself.  Born miraculously, affirmed by a loving father (Mark 1:11; Luke 9:35), gifted and precocious (Luke 2:46-49), finding favour with men (Luke 2:52), wrongly accused and punished (Isaiah 53:9) and finally raised to fame and authority (Philippians 2:8-11).  Joseph became a king as, later, did Jesus!
  • Like all foreshadowings (“types”) in scripture, Joseph is an imperfect representation of Jesus, yet his life demonstrates powerfully how God rules and steers the nations through the lives of submitted men and women, and how he plans to bring all things in Heaven and Earth under the rule of Christ (Ephesians 1:22)

The key theme, repeated many times, is that the Lord was with Joseph and blessed his work and gave him success in everything he did.  This resulted in blessing for all those around him too (with the notable exception of Pharaoh’s baker in the prison!).  Joseph was put in charge, first, of the household of Potiphar, the captain of the guard; then put in charge of the prison into which he had been incarcerated; then put in charge of all Egypt.  All of this was because of God’s favour in his life and Joseph’s own faithfulness towards God in response.

The incident where Potiphar’s wife attempted to seduce Joseph is in striking comparison to Judah’s rather sordid lifestyle.  Joseph quickly realised (and I suspect that Potiphar knew also) that the wife was a serial temptress and that he was in grave danger; if he yielded to her, then he would offend both Potiphar and God, and if he resisted, he would offend her.  In the end, he had no choice – he ran!  His rejection caused her lust for him quickly to change into hatred and she lied about him to Potiphar.  Potiphar knew, deep down, that Joseph was probably innocent (he had perhaps seen this scenario occur with his wife many times before) – or else he would have had Joseph summarily executed – but the accusation was now public and, to save face, with regret he sent his faithful servant to prison. 

In God’s purposes, what appeared to be a disaster was actually a steppingstone to a greater salvation – not just for Joseph but for the entire nation of Egypt and the household of Israel.  “In all things, God works for good for those who love him, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28 and Genesis 50:20.)

More Learning Points:

  • If we give credit and glory to God and remain submitted humbly to his plan and purpose for our lives, he will raise us up to positions of influence and authority on his behalf.
  • If we expect the Lord to use us powerfully in his kingdom, then he will.  Faith is the key!
  • Think about how God has used you in positions of influence, and how you arrived there in the first place;  are you using these to influence others to know the Lord?

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