Common Thoughts (A Genesis Review 7)

The flow of history is utterly fascinating. When I wrote Miracle Across the Water I was fascinated by the specific line of history that led to the United States. You know those mazes in newspapers or children’s menu/color sheets at a restaurant with a maze where you go from “Start” to “End” trying not to get lost and have to backtrack? I found that if I began with “End” I could more easily reach “Start” without running into dead ends. Well, history is like that. If you backtrack you more easily see the event that led to a history and you walk through the events noting how each past event naturally led to the future event. Looking forward you would never see it but it becomes clear looking backwards. We find Abraham and his family living in the land God promised to give his posterity, but for whatever reason the time was not yet for that nation to be built. It still belongs to the various people who live there. Unbeknownst to Abraham there will be another 600+ years before Moses leads his ancestors back to the same land he now inhabits and God promised him. This is the bugaboo in our lives; God promises something but we never understand his timing in fulfilling it.

When Steven King wrote The Green Mile, he published it as a series in small paperbacks in serial form. The Book of Genesis is written in serial kind of form. Beginning in chapter 37 we now follow the story of Joseph. We’ve gone through the story of Adam and Eve to Noah to Abraham and now to Joseph. If this were a novel it would be nothing but exciting, a page turner. Israel/Jacob sends Joseph to help his brothers in the field and as he approaches we read this: “Here comes that dreamer!” they said to each other. “Come now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him. Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams.”His brother, Ruben, intercedes on his behalf and they finally agree not to kill him but to sell him. We read: “So when the Midianite merchants came by, his brothers pulled Joseph up out of the cistern and sold him for twenty shekels of silver to the Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt. ”These Midianites then “sold Joseph in Egypt to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard.”

In chapter 38 we cut away to follow an unbelievable story about one of Joseph’s brothers, Judah. You can’t make this stuff up out of your mind. Judah leaves his brothers and meets up with Hirah, an Adullamite, where he meets a Canaanite woman, Shua, and makes her his wife. Time goes by because they are having fun and she gives him three sons, Er, Onan, and Shelah. Er becomes old enough and Judah gets him a wife, named Tamar. Then we find that for whatever reason—and we are not told why—Er offends God and God causes his death. Judah sends his second son, Onan to Tamar to sleep with her and get her pregnant—something that is cultural behavior where family takes over the family of a fallen brother. Onan really didn’t want to do this so he “spills his seed” so she won’t get pregnant. “What he did was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so the Lord put him to death also.” (verse 10.) You can’t make this stuff up.

It gets better from here. More time passes as Tamar returns to her family and gets older. Judah’s wife, Shua dies. When Tamar was sent home to grieve as a widow, she had been given to Judah’s third son, Shelah, but he was too young so they were waiting for him to grow up. When Tamar heard about Shua’s death, she took off her widows clothes, dressed in a fashion that made her look like a prostitute (yeah, they had those way back then) and went to meet Judah who didn’t recognize her as Tamar.

“15When Judah saw her, he thought she was a prostitute, for she had covered her face. 16Not realizing that she was his daughter-in-law, he went over to her by the roadside and said, “Come now, let me sleep with you.” (I say again, you can’t make this stuff up. Real life is stranger than fiction.)

There’s more but I stop here. You can read it for yourself in chapter 38. Why this story is included I have no idea except we’re going to find that the Bible is not a theology but a history, the good, the bad, and the ugly, and inside this history is how we see God working and understand who God is and what is expected of us.

Chapter 39 we return to Joseph and we are back in Egypt, last being there when Abraham was there. “Potiphar, an Egyptian who was one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had taken him there. ” We are told that God was with Joseph and he prospered as God gave him success in everything he did. What was meant for evil—the brothers selling him off as a slave—turned out for Joseph’s good, and while they don’t know it yet, will turn out for the good of his brothers when they desperately need help.

“Now Joseph was well-built and handsome, and after a while his master’s wife took notice of Joseph and said, “Come to bed with me!” I’ll say it again, you can’t make this stuff up. Joseph takes a moral stand (we haven’t seen this in this family line) and refuses to sleep with Potiphar’s wife, but she won’t take no for an answer. One day in another attempt to seduce him, as he runs away he leaves his tunic and in revenge she screams that Joseph tried to rape her.

“But while Joseph was there in the prison, the Lord was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden. So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there. The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph’s care, because the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did.” (Genesis 39:20-23.)

Interesting man. No matter what position he is put in—like Potiphar’s slave or a jailbird—he is filled with integrity and ability and makes himself invaluable. Centuries later another man resembles this as we read his words: “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” (Words of Paul found in Philippians 4:12.) Both men have God on their side.

In chapter 40 we find that a cupbearer and baker angered the Pharaoh who threw them in jail, the same jail where Joseph is housed and he was put in charge of taking care of them. It seems one night both of them had dreams that worried them. Joseph offers to interpret them and he makes an interesting statement: “Do not interpretations belong to God?” I don’t think we can make this a universal blanket statement as the context here is very specific and meaningful about Joseph, a man who already had meaningful dreams, though they got him into trouble. Now they will get him out of trouble. The interpretation we learn is that the cupbearer will be released from prison and returned to Pharaoh and Joseph wants the cupbearer to remember him and say a good word about him. A phrase he says is interesting: “I was forcibly carried off from the land of the Hebrews . . .” (“The origin of the word Hebrew is thought to come from the proper name “Eber,” listed in Genesis 10:24 as the great-grandson of Shem and an ancestor of Abraham. Another etymology traces the original root word back to the phrase “from the other side”—in that case, Hebrew would be a word designating an “immigrant,” which Abraham certainly was (Genesis 12:14–5).” (From the site Got Questions.) Abram was the first person called a Hebrew, a term that will become synonymous with the descendants of Abraham.

The baker was excited because he had a similar dream and Joseph told the cupbearer he would be freed so surely he, the baker, would be freed. But not so fast. Joseph said he would be freed, yes, but to be hanged. In three days they were both released, the cupbearer returning to his position and the baker hanged. But, poor Joseph, the cupbearer forgot all about Joseph and he would stay in prison another two years before events changed his life.

It happens that Pharaoh has two dreams one night and is disturbed by them. He calls for magicians and wise men in Egypt to interpret the dreams but they couldn’t. That’s when the cupbearer recalls what happened to him when he was imprisoned and tells the Pharaoh about Joseph and the Pharaoh calls him to interpret the dreams. Sometimes what I eat doesn’t set well while I sleep and I have wild dreams. It wasn’t what the Pharaoh ate that brought about his dreams. Some say dreams are interpretative of our life, our subconscious mind is telling us something about ourselves or our life. Joseph tells Pharaoh that his dreams came from God, Jacob’s God revealing his future, a plan created by God. If we forgot God is a universal God we are reminded here. We are also reminded that God plays a role in our history at times but not like the mythological characters of Pagan religions. Why does God want Pharaoh to know the future? Because it is part of the plan God has for Abraham’s generations, something we won’t know until we look backwards.

Joseph interpreted the dreams and tells the Pharaoh that Egypt will have seven years of bumper crops, then seven years of severe famine. We read this in chapter 41:

“25Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, “The dreams of Pharaoh are one and the same. God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do. 26The seven good cows are seven years, and the seven good heads of grain are seven years; it is one and the same dream. 27The seven lean, ugly cows that came up afterward are seven years, and so are the seven worthless heads of grain scorched by the east wind: They are seven years of famine.”

33“And now let Pharaoh look for a discerning and wise man and put him in charge of the land of Egypt. 34Let Pharaoh appoint commissioners over the land to take a fifth of the harvest of Egypt during the seven years of abundance. 35They should collect all the food of these good years that are coming and store up the grain under the authority of Pharaoh, to be kept in the cities for food. 36This food should be held in reserve for the country, to be used during the seven years of famine that will come upon Egypt, so that the country may not be ruined by the famine.”

39Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one so discerning and wise as you. 40You shall be in charge of my palace, and all my people are to submit to your orders. Only with respect to the throne will I be greater than you.” Here we see Pharaoh recognizing the God of Joseph real in a way that the gods of Egypt are not, though he doesn’t bow down and worship this God.