Year 1, Week 6, Day 5
I have a brief observation for today’s reading of Genesis 37-38.
Today’s reading embarks on the last and longest segment of Genesis. Genesis 37 introduces us to Joseph, who will be the central figure in this segment. We become acquainted with Joseph in the context of continued, yet now intensified family strife. A father’s favoritism and the brother’s jealousy clash resulting in Joseph being tossed into a pit, sold off as a slave, and ending up in Egypt. Genesis 38 abruptly interrupts the suspense in the account of Joseph with a situation pertaining to Judah, who will emerge, perhaps surprisingly, as the second most important character in this segment. However, this initial encounter with Judah reveals him as a despicable person, who, nevertheless, undergoes a profound change as he is confronted by his wickedness. In the early chapters of this segment, both Joseph and Judah are undergoing a twenty-year preparation for the work that lay before them.
Today’s reading struck me in what it reveals about the LORD’s surprising twists that He often takes in working out His purposes. One aspect of God’s purposes has been alluded to already, but not elaborated upon. In the context of the Abrahamic Covenant, with its promises of a people, a place, and the LORD’s presence, the pledge of a king is also made. First to Abraham, “kings shall come from you” (Genesis 17:6), but then again most recently to Jacob, “kings shall come from your own body” (Genesis 35:11). The imagery of a king goes all the way back to commands issued to Adam: “Fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:28). This last segment of Genesis brings important clarity as to how the LORD will bring about His vow: “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.” (Psalm 2:6).
How the LORD installs a king is going to end up differently than how it first appears. Genesis 37 opens with suggestions that Joseph will be king. Joseph received back-to-back dreams indicating that he will be bowed before. His brothers don’t like the implications: “Are you indeed to reign over us? Or are you indeed to rule over us?” (Genesis 37:8). While even Jacob doesn’t like the sound of Joseph’s dreams, he remembers them, and has even already provided a robe, perhaps the attire of a king, to Joseph.
Notions of Joseph’s kingship provoke the brothers: “Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits.” (Genesis 37:19). The brothers plan, not a coronation, but a killing. They eventually opt for a profitable business transaction over fratricide and deceive (there’s that family trait again) their father concerning Joseph’s death by covering animal blood on the robe. Meanwhile, Joseph, the perceived heir to the throne is in a pit: “For my soul is full of troubles…I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am a man who has no strength, like one set loose among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave, like those whom you remember no more…You have put me in the depths of the pit.” (Psalm 88:3-6). The chapter ends with Joseph’s transfer from the pit to enslavement.
And then the suspenseful account of Joseph’s tragedy is interrupted with sleazy facts about the life of Judah. I would suggest this chapter is a condensed rendition of Judah’s life during the same twenty years that Joseph is away in Egypt (before the brothers come down looking for food). Genesis 38 is a snapshot of just how wicked Judah is as a man. While Joseph is wrongly enslaved, Judah is defiling the LORD, by marrying a Canaanite woman, and living with no concern for his children, as illustrated in his refusal to provide his widowed daughter-in-law, Tamar, the opportunity to preserve her dead husband’s line. Judah had no regard for his daughter-in-law, until she turned up pregnant, which enrages him. Perhaps he is just feigning rage, but one thing for certain, he was deceived. Upon investigation, he discovered the father, as Tamar held out some of the fornicator’s possessions: “By the man to whom these belong, I am pregnant.” And she said, “Please identify whose these are, the signet and the cord and the staff.” (Genesis 38:25).
Hitting pause to the development in both Joseph’s and Judah’s account, we need to realize something that may feel odd, perhaps even unjust: Judah, not Joseph will be the kingly line! And to complicate this even more, one of Tamar’s twin sons, from Judah, Perez, is the particular ancestor. But the LORD is a work. In regard to Judah, the confrontation of his wickedness, breaks him: “She is more righteous than I, since I did not give her to my son Shelah.” And he did not know her again.” (Genesis 38:26). Judah repents and is a different man—an importantly, different man—throughout the rest of Genesis.
But the LORD is also at work illustrating, how He provides redemption by substitution. Joseph, the innocent one, has been regarded as dead, and faces years of injustice, while Judah, a wicked man, will actually be preserved by Joseph’s eventual, wise, life-saving plans and actions. Joseph’s unfair demise gives rise to Judah’s undeserved honor: “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18).
What struck you in today’s reading? What questions were prompted from today’s reading?