Wednesday, January 13, 2010


Genesis 37-39

Genesis 37 begins with Joseph, now 17, working in the fields with his brothers (mostly half-brothers).  His brothers resent Joseph, for being his father's favorite, shown by, for one example, receiving a "richly ornamented robe."  He describes for his brothers a dream in which they are gathering sheaves in the field and his brothers' sheaves bow to his.  Later, out in the fields, his brothers decide to kill him, but Rueben convinces them to throw him into a cistern, thinking that he can be rescued later.  They throw him into a cistern, but see a group of Ishmaelites traveling and sell him into slavery.  They tear his robe, cover it with goat's blood, and return it to Jacob/Israel, who mourns his son.  Joseph reaches Egypt and is sold to Potiphar, captain of the Pharoah's guard.

In chapter 38, we get the story of Judah and Tamar.  Judah took a wife and fathered, over a period of years, three sons, Er, Onan and Shelah.  Er married a woman named Tamar, but "was wicked in the LORD's sight; so the LORD put him to death."  Judah told Onan that he needed to father children with Tamar, to "fulfill your duty to her as a brother-in-law to produce offspring for your brother."  Onan lay with her but intentionally did not get her pregnant, "spill[ing] his semen on the ground...What he did was wicked in the LORD's sight; so he put him to death also."  Judah told Tamar to live as a widow in her father's house and that Shelah until Shelah grew up.

Some time later, after the death of Judah's wife, he traveled to Timnah to shear his sheep.  Tamar, hearing about this, put on a veil and went out to that part of the country, because, though Shelah was grown, he had not been given to her.  Judah, thinking her a prostitute, offered to pay a kid (goat) for sex.  As he didn't have the kid with him, he gave her his signet and staff as collateral.  When he later tried to pay, she, having dropped the veil and returned to her father's house, was not to be found.  No one knew anything about a prostitute having been there. 

Three months later, they came to Judah saying that his daughter-in-law Tamar was pregnant and, therefore, "guilty of prostitution."  He said that she must be burned.  She sent a message saying that she was pregnant by the man who had given her "these" and sent back the signet and staff.  He reacted that "she is more righteous than I, since I wouldn't give her to my son Shelah."  She later gave birth to twins, Perez and Zerah.

Genesis 39 returns to the story of Joseph, now living as a slave in Potiphar's house.  He is trusted by his master, as the LORD helps him and gives him success in all he does.  Potiphar's wife is attracted to him, and attempts to seduce him, but he refuses to violate his master's trust.  He flees the house, leaving his cloak behind.  When Potiphar returns, his wife presents the cloak as evidence in support of her story that Joseph tried "to make sport of" her.  Potiphar is furious and Joseph is thrown in to prison.  But even in prison, "the LORD was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden."  As in Potiphar's house, the LORD gave him success in all that he did.

    Thoughts, questions, issues
  • It says that Joseph was Israel's favorite because he was the child of his old age, but Benjamin was younger.  And there's no indication earlier that a) Jacob was (or was feeling) particularly old when Joseph was born, nor b) that there was any significant gap in age between Joseph and his older brothers.  What would seem a more likely source of favoritism is that Joseph was the first son born to Rachel, whom Jacob loved and chose to wife, rather than those wives imposed on him by circumstance.
  • There are indicators that Joseph might have been a jerk as a young man.  "He brought their father a bad report about" his brothers.  He wore his lavish robe out to the fields.  He told them about his dreams of them bowing before him.  A favorite child can be one of the group or he can flaunt his status.  It sounds as if Joseph may well have done the latter.
  • The story of Judah and Tamar predates any of the Levitical laws, and there has been no mention of brother's giving deceased brother wives children.  Is this a cultural imperative?  What is the source of the compulsion for Onan?
  • The double standard is not new.  Judah bought Tamar, Tamar sold herself to Judah.  He thought that he'd done nothing wrong, and she deserved the death penalty.
  • If Tamar was to be burned for presumably engaging in prostitution, how is it that proof that she had actually engaged in prostitution got her off the hook?  There are, presumable, class or caste distinctions, but [MSW] it's very hard for a layman to read this story and understand many of the motivations.
  • The motivations in the story of Joseph and Potiphar's wife, on the other hand, are not that difficult for a modern man to follow.  She wants him.  He doesn't want to violate a trust.  She's scorned and furious.  Yeah, that one works.
  • Tom Robinson = Joseph.  Mayella Ewell = Potiphar's wife.  (To Kill a Mockingbird)
  • The key, I think to this story is that the LORD prospers Joseph.  Both as a slave and as a prisoner, he is guided/aided/supported, and everything he does succeeds.

Proverbs 11:16-31

This set of verses extols the virtues of kindness, generosity and discretion.

If there is some kind of overlying structure to this section of the book, I have not yet recognized it.  I do see a few verses in each set that are related to one another, but it's not at all clear to me that they're organized for that to be the case rather than just random.

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