Read: Genesis 37:2 – 41:40
Discussion themes and questions:
The story of Joseph is one in which an overriding providence carries Joseph through a series of heartbreaking setbacks to a remarkable position of honor.
- The dreamer (Genesis 37). More favoritism and more deception mark the story of Joseph up until his abrupt departure for Egypt. How does one assess the foolishness of Jacob in favoring this one son over the others? How does one assess the foolishness of a young and insecure Joseph who taunts his brothers with his self-centered dreams? In both cases, would it be safe to speak of reaping what one has sown?
- Judah and Tamar (Genesis 38). Interrupting the Joseph story is a very unhappy tale involving Judah and Tamar, his daughter-in-law. However sordid the story may appear to us, and whatever role it may be playing as an interruption in the Joseph narrative, it does illustrate an early version of the Levirate marriage law (= law of the husband’s brother), the Old Testament way of insuring that a family name is preserved uninterrupted. This is one of three OT contexts in which the law or custom is featured, each one differing in key respects from the others:
- Judah and Tamar (Gen. 38). Here the requirement to carry on the brother’s name is obligatory. Refusal results in death (Onan).
- Deuteronomic law (Deut. 25:5-10). Here the custom applies to brothers living together; refusal is possible, but brings shame (“pull his sandal off his foot, spit in his face…,” vs. 9).
- Ruth and Naomi (Ruth). Here the custom has been extended to include the whole family, and refusal is possible without shame. The shameful sandal pulling of Deuteronomy 25 has simply become the normal way of “redeeming and exchanging” (Ruth 4:7).
Does this emphasis on preserving the family in the OT have something to tell our age where the fragmentation of the family is often so frequent and tragic?
- Joseph in Egypt: Slave, Prisoner, Governor. One of the most promising lines of inquiry in the Joseph story is to note his integrity over against the abuses and temptations which he had to endure. Are there any flaws in his armor? Has he overcome the foolish arrogance of his youth? A further feature will be continued in next week’s lesson: the role of a longsuffering providence in bringing good out of evil.