Genesis Study 15

Bible Class – Study #15 (Gen 37-38) – Notes and Discussion questions

Genesis Study #15: The prognostication of Joseph / The deviation of Judah

Main passage of study: Gen 37:1 – 38:30

Related passages: Part

A: Ge 42:6; 49:23; Jg 5:30; 2Sa 13:18; Mt 26:64-65; Lu 2:19, 51; 19:14; Jn 5:18; 7:7; 8:40; Ac 7:9; 1Jn 2:11

B: Ge 33:18-19; 42:21-22; 1Sa 17:17; 2Ki 6:13; Ps 31:13; 88:6; Is 6:8; Zec 9:11; Mt 12:14; 27:28, 43; Lu 19:10; 20:13-14; Jn 1:11; 5:30; He 10:7

C: Ge 27:9-10; 42:21; Ex 21:16; Lev 27:5; Jg 8:22-24; Pro 28:13; Zec 11:12

D: Ge 13:13; 24:3; Dt 25:5-10; Jg 14:1: 2Sa 13:23-28; 2Co 6:14

E: Lev 21:9; 1Sa 24:17; 2Sa 12:5; Eze 16:33; Mt 1:3; Lu 3:33; Ro 6:21; He 7:14

Outline & Notes

  1. Joseph the favoured son– Gen 37:1-11
    1. Joseph’s distinction – Gen 37:1-4
    2. Joseph’s dreams – Gen 37:5-11
  2. Joseph the faithful seeker – Gen 37:12-24
    1. Jacob’s plan to dispatch Joseph – Gen 37:12-17
    2. The brothers’ plan to destroy Joseph – Gen 37:18-20
    3. Reuben’s plan to deliver Joseph – Gen 37:21-24
  3. Joseph the foreign slave – Gen 37:25-36
    1. Judah’s proposal to dispose of Joseph – Gen 37:25-28
    2. Reuben’s poignant distress over Joseph – Gen 37:29-30
    3. The brothers’ practised deceit – Gen 37:31-32
    4. Jacob’s profound despair – Gen 37: 33-35
    5. The Midianites’ profitable deal – Gen 37:36
  1. Judah’s foolish step– Gen 38:1-14
    1. An unauthorized alliance – Gen 38:1-5
    2. An uncommon condemnation – Gen 38:6-10
    3. An unperformed promise – Gen 38:11-14
  2. Judah’s familial shame – Gen 38:15-30
    1. An unexpected entrapment – Gen 38:15-19
    2. An undiscovered daughter-in-law – Gen 38:20-23
    3. An unhidden hypocrisy – Gen 38:24-26
    4. An unlikely lineage – Gen 38:27-30

The focus now shifts to Joseph in chapter 37 who will take centre-stage in the narrative for the bulk of the rest of the book of Genesis. Joseph is the last of the 4 great men that follow the 4 great events in the book and his story occupies more chapters than anyone else. The life of Abraham brings us the truth of election, Isaac, that of sonship, Jacob, of the conflict of the two natures in the believer and of God’s gracious discipline of the believer. In Joseph, we have the themes of heirship and of sufferings that precede glory. There are also more pictures from the life of Joseph that can be linked to the person of Christ than any other OT personage. In chapter 37, Joseph goes from being the favoured son to being a foreign slave in Potiphar’s house. Chapter 38 is somewhat of a sad digression from the main story, outlining Judah’s descent into unholy unions and shameful schemes. We will find though that the Lord graciously overrules in spite of sinful circumstances to ensure the continuance of the messianic line that will one day lead to the bringing forth of His own Son to accomplish the work of redemption.

Textual notes

● The expression used to describe Joseph’s distinctive garment has more the idea of a long-sleeved garment with seams extending to the wrists and ankles. It would still be a very distinctive garment worn by nobility or those who supervised labourers.
● We never read of the Lord speaking directly to Joseph but He does communicate to him through dreams in chapter 37 and to interpret dreams in later chapters.

● Shechem was about 50 miles north of Hebron and Dothan was about another 15 miles to the northwest.

● The terms Ishmaelites and Midianites can be used interchangeably as to describe the caravan of traders to whom Joseph is sold by his brothers. Midian was a son of Abraham by his second wife, Keturah. It is likely that the descendants of Ishmael and of Midian intermarried.

● In Gen 37:19, “this dreamer”is literally “this master of dreams” – obviously said sarcastically.

● Gen 37:35 says that “all his (Jacob’s) sons and all his daughters arose to comfort him”. We only read of Jacob having one daughter, Dinah. So possibly Jacob had other daughters not recorded in the Scriptures or daughters could include daughters-in-law. Less likely is that he had granddaughters by this time.

● Potiphar was a high ranking court official in Pharaoh’s government. His name means “the one whom Ra has given”.

● Adullam was apparently a royal city in Canaan about 15 miles northwest of Hebron.

● The time of sheep shearing was often a time of feasting.

● The word “harlot” in chapter 38 is translated by two different words in the original. In Gen 38:15 and Gen 38:24, it would be the normal word but in Gen 38:21,22, it’s the word for a cult or temple prostitute which would be common in Canaanite pagan rituals.

● The signet given by Judah to Tamar in Gen 38:18 would especially be an identifying item.

● The command by Judah for Tamar to be “burned” in Gen 38:24 could mean a burn mark on the forehead to identify her publicly as a harlot rather than a death sentence.

Discussion questions

1. If there is a flaw to be identified in the character of Joseph from the text of Scripture, it is usually attributed to his pride in announcing his dreams to his brothers. Do you think that Joseph was wise in doing so? Can he be blamed for stirring up his brothers’ jealousy and intensified hatred of him?

2. What might we take from the content of Joseph’s dreams in terms of symbolism?

3. Look up the meanings of Hebron, Shechem and Dothan. How could we interpret these place names in a typical sense with respect to the Lord Jesus, another Son sent by the Father?

4. Considering the propensity of the human heart to justify sin, how would you characterize Reuben’s and Judah’s proposed amendments to the brothers’ plan?

5. How does the brothers’ cover up add insult to injury as far as their father Jacob is concerned?

6. Often, our most intense emotions, whether positive or negative, are manifested toward those to whom we are closest. How can we feel legitimate emotions without allowing them to cause us to react in a sinful way?

7. Why do you think this sad episode from the life of Judah is inserted into the narrative of Joseph at this point?

8. There were obviously culturally-specific issues relevant to Onan’s sin but what scriptural principles could we extract and apply to our context today?

9. The only times that the Lord is mentioned in chapters 37 and 38 are in sudden judgment upon Judah’s sons in
Gen 38:7, 10. In what ways did Judah and the members of his family disregard and dishonour the Lord in this chapter?

10. Tamar seems to be stuck in a rather difficult situation as she is dependent upon Judah and under his authority as far as remarriage is concerned. Was there any other option for this widow? Where else in Scripture do we read of our moral responsibility towards the vulnerable?

11. Judah’s friend Hirah, the Adullamite is mentioned three times in ch 38. What kind of clues can you find in the chapter about what kind of friend he might have been and about the influence he may have had upon Judah?

12. Judah is guilty of much failure in terms of taking responsibility in this chapter but Gen 38:26 seems to be an important turning point. Look up the circumstances of when we next read of Judah. What do you notice?