JEF Sunday School Lesson #12

Lesson 12: Genesis 40-45

Genesis 40

Verse 1: How long do you think “after these things” might represent, a long time or a short time?

Verse 2: Note that “butler” is probably better translated “cup bearer,” and “baker” is probably better translated “royal scribe.” These are important palace officials. Does that suggest anything about the prison director’s thoughts concerning Joseph?

Verse 3: In whose prison is Joseph?

Verse 5: The Egyptians believed that “sleep puts us in real and direct contact with the other world where not only the dead but also the gods dwell” (Vergote, Joseph én Égypte 48). How is this relevant to the butler’s, baker’s, and Pharaoh’s dreams? How does this explain their sadness or frustration (verse 6)?

Verse 8: In response to the baker and the butler’s sadness at not having an interpretation of their dreams, Joseph asks, “Do not interpretations belong to God?” How does that compare to his response to his own dreams in Genesis 37:5-10? What does this tell us about Joseph?

Verse 15: The word “dungeon” translates the same Hebrew word translated “pit” in 37:22, 24-25, and 29. What are the parallels between the story of chapter 37 and the story of chapters 39 and 40? What do those parallels show?

Verse 16: What is the baker’s motivation for asking for an interpretation of his dream?

Verse 21: Why do you think the butler forgot Joseph?


Why would the butler and the baker have had any confidence in Joseph’s interpretation of their dreams? From this chapter, what do we see about life under the Pharaoh? Why did the Lord have Joseph interpret two dreams, especially when one was anything but good news? Notice the skillful use of language in this story: Pharaoh will lift the head of the butler (deal kindly with him—verse 13) and he will also lift the head of the baker (have him killed—verse 19). And this occurs in a story about a person, Joseph, who has been cast down (twice) and whose head will be lifted by God. The phrase “lift the head” can be seen as a summary of this part of the story and a foreboding of what is to come: if we didn’t already know the end of the story, we might well wonder, “In which way is Joseph’s head going to be lifted?” Treating this chapter as a story in itself, what does it suggest about hope? How did Joseph probably feel at the end? How is this experience of waiting for what will apparently not come to pass like that of previous patriarchs? Did Jesus later have experiences like that? Other prophets? So what?

Genesis 41

Verse 1: What does the phrase “two full years” tell us?

Verses 1-8: Why do the cows come up out of the river? Of what significance was the Nile river to the Egyptians? What did the number seven mean in Egypt? What did cows signify in Egypt? They were used more for plowing than for eating by the Egyptians as well as by the Hebrews. How are the cows connected to the corn (grain) of the second dream? Pharaoh says that no one can interpret his dream, suggesting that some have tried or that some have been asked to and said they could not. (See also verses 15 and 24.) How would Pharaoh been able to tell whether an interpretation by one of his magicians was accurate?

Verse 9: What faults is the butler remembering? Why does he begin his story this way? Why not just tell the story rather than mention his faults?

Verses 10-13: Many interpreters believe that “a young man, an Hebrew, servant to the captain of the guard” is disparaging, intended to show Joseph as insignificant? Why would the butler do that? What is the effect of having two different dreams interpreted, one positively and one negatively? Does that establish Joseph’s credibility? How so?

Verse 14: Of what significance is it that they called Joseph from the prison hastily? Is there a contrast here between the two years he waited (verse 1 of this chapter) and his summons before the Pharaoh? If so, what is that contrast for? what does it do?

Verse 16: Notice the similarity of Joseph’s reply to the Pharaoh and his reply to the butler and baker. Is Joseph’s reply somewhat confrontational, considering that he is speaking with the Pharaoh? If so, what might that tell us about him?

Verses 25-36: Notice the structure of Joseph’s reply to the Pharaoh: In verses 25-27, he gives Pharaoh the key to interpreting his dream: cows = years and ears of corn = years. He explains that the two dreams have the same meaning. In verses 28-31, Joseph explains the meaning of the symbols as they relate to each other. Why does the emphasis fall on the famine rather than on the good years? In verses 32-36, he gives the Pharaoh advice about what he should do to deal with the predicted famine. Notice also that each of the three parts of his response begins with an introductory sentence: “the dream is one” (verse 26), “What God is about to do, he showeth to Pharaoh” (verse 28), and “the thing is established by God, and God will shortly bring it to pass” (32). What is the point of these introductory verses? How did Joseph, a slave recently retrieved from prison, have the temerity to give the Pharaoh advice about how to respond to the predicted famine? He was only asked to interpret the dream, but he goes much further than offering an interpretation.

Verse 37: Why did the Pharaoh see Joseph’s interpretation as good?

Verse 38: What is the Pharaoh asking his servants when he asks, “Can we find such a one as this is, a man in whom the Spirit of God is?”

Verses 40-41: In verse 40, the Pharaoh tells Joseph that he will be in charge of everything. Then, in verse 41, he says, “See, I have set thee over all the land of Egypt.” Why the redundancy?

Genesis 42

Verse 1: Why does Jacob reemerge as an important character in the story?

Verse 4: Does Jacob continue to treat the sons of Rachel differently than his other sons? What evidence in the story is there of how Benjamin’s brothers responded to his special status? What are we supposed to conclude from that?

Verse 9: Of what significance is it that Joseph remembers his dreams about his brothers (chapter 37) rather than that they had sold him into slavery? Why does he accuse them? The verse explains the accusation by referring to the dreams. How do they explain his accusation? Do the dreams he had explain the demand he makes of them to bring his younger brother?

Verse 11: How is it relevant that they are all the sons of the same man? Is the fact that Joseph is also the son of Jacob, their father, important to understanding what Moses wants us to see here?

Verses 14-16: Is Joseph giving his brothers “pay back” by imprisoning them? Though the Talmud (the interpretation of the first five books of the Bible, the Torah) was written much later than Genesis, it gives us an idea of how the Jewish traditions has understood repentance and so a hint at how Old Testament people might have understood it. According to the Talmud, a person has repented if he faces exactly the same temptation and has as much power to succumb as he did when he sinned, but he abstains. Given this understanding, how does Joseph’s proposal test the repentance of his brothers?

Verses 18-24: What are these verses designed to show us?

Verse 19: Compare Job 29:12-13 and Proverbs 31:20. What point is Moses making?

Verse 21: We learn here something we did not see in chapter 37: Joseph pled with his brothers when they threw him into the pit. Why did Moses keep that information back until now?

Verse 24: Why do you think Joseph weeps? Why do you think Joseph had Simeon bound rather than one of the other brothers?

Verse 27-28: What do the brothers think when they discover the money in their sacks? Various motives have been offered for Joseph putting the money in their sacks: it was an act of brotherly kindness to show them that they were guests; it was, as they believed, to make them look like thieves; it was an imitation of the earlier situation in which they were willing to exchange Joseph for money—if they get money, will they abandon Simeon?

Verses 30-34: Which parts of what happened to them do they leave out when they tell their story to Jacob? Why?

Verse 37: How is Reuben’s offer related to what Jacob has suffered?

Verses 36-38: What is Jacob’s response to the problem? Is he willing to send Benjamin to Egypt in order to ransom Simeon? What does that tell us? What did it say to Jacob’s other sons? (Notice that he says “My son shall not go down with you, suggesting that they are not his sons.)

Genesis 43

Some have argued that this chapter and chapter 42 may be arranged in chiasms, and that the chiasms of the two chapters echo one another. (See Word Biblical Commentary 2:318-419.) Why might the writer have written the chapters in that way?

Verse 2: Why does Jacob tell them “”Go again, buy us a little food”?

Verse 3: Why does Judah, rather than Reuben, the oldest, make the argument to take Benjamin Egypt? See Genesis 42:37-38 and 35:22

Verse 6: How should we understand Jacob’s complaint in this verse?

Verses 8-10: What is different in Judah’s plea this time? What changes Israel’s mind about allowing his sons to return to Egypt with Benjamin?

Verse 9: When Judah says, “let me bear the blame forever,” what is he offering his father? What does it mean to offer to bear the blame? Why isn’t this an empty offer?

Verse 14: Why does Jacob refer to Simeon as “your other brother” rather than use his name? (In Hebrew, the construction is unusual. Literally, it says “your brother another one” rather than “your other brother,” as if to emphasize that Jacob doesn’t use Simeon’s name.) Compare Jacob’s prayer here to that in Genesis 32:9-12.

Verse 18: They are afraid that they will be taken as slaves and that their asses will be taken from them. What does their concern for their asses suggest about their wealth? Does that help us understand anything about the story of their encounter with Joseph?

Verses 20-24: What are we supposed to see in this scene? Joseph knows that he had the money put into their sacks. Why does he say “Your God, and the God of your father, hath given you treasure in your sacks” (verse 23)? Is he lying? If not, what point is Moses making?

Verse 29: This is the first time that a relation between Joseph and his brothers has been mentioned in this part of the story. It has referred to “them” and “the men,” but not said anything about brothers. Why is “brother” and “mother’s son” introduced here?

Verses 31-32: Does Moses intend a contrast between this meal and that in Genesis 37:25?

Verses 33: Why does Joseph seat them in order of seniority, surprising them?

Genesis 44

Verse 2: Why do you think Joseph has the servant put his silver cup in Benjamin’s sack rather than in one of the other brother’s sacks?

Verses 1-10: What is the point of Joseph’s test?

Verse 14: I’m fairly sure that this is the first time in the story that we are told that all of the brothers have fallen down before Joseph. Here we see the fulfilment of the dream of Genesis 37:6-7. How has Joseph changed since then? How have the brothers changed? How has Jacob changed? What brought about that change?

Verse 16: To whom is Judah referring when he asks, “What shall we say unto my lord?” To Joseph, whom they stand before? To Jacob, to whom they must explain what has happened? To God?

Verses 18-34: This speech by Judah is the longest speech in Genesis. It has three parts: a description of what has happened (verses 19-29), a description of the effects of what has happened (verses 30-32), and the proposal of an alternative to keeping Benjamin as a slave (verses 32-33). Since Joseph already knows what has happened to them, why does Judah repeat the story to him? Why did Judah omit the accusation of spying from his story? Is it significant that Judah stands as surety for the brothers’ return? How so? Judah uses the word “father” 14 times in his speech. What effect does he hope it will have? What effect does it have? What do we see of Judah’s character in this speech? How does that compare to what we saw of him in chapters 37 and 38?

Genesis 45

Verses 1-2: What finally moves Joseph to tears that he cannot control?

Verses 4, 5, 7: Notice that in verse 4 Joseph speaks of being sold into Egypt, but in verses 5 and 7 he speaks of being sent into Egypt. What does that change in the verb tell us? What way of thinking is behind that change?

Verses 5, 8: In verse 5, Joseph says, “God did send me before you to preserve life.” Then, in verse 8 he says, “it was not you that sent me hither, but God.” Compare these to the sending mentioned in Genesis 37:13-14. What does this suggest about our intentions and purposes, about our goals and plans?

Verses 14-15: What has changed that makes this reunion possible? What has Joseph learned? Given what his brothers did to him, how can Joseph no longer be angry at them? Of what significance is it that at this point we learn “and after that his brethren talked with him”? Hadn’t they talked with him before?

Overall for this lesson

The story of Joseph is the longest story in Genesis, longer than the story of creation, the story of Adam and Eve, the story of the flood, the story of Abraham, . . . . Why? In spite of the importance of the story of Joseph to Genesis, the person Joseph is rarely mentioned in the Bible after Genesis. Why not?

In Genesis 15:13-14 the Lord told Abraham that the children of Israel would be strangers in a land that is not theirs for 400 years. This story shows us the fulfillment of that prophesy. Why do you think the Lord planned to send Israel into Egypt and then into captivity in Egypt?

Why is Egypt a common symbol in the scriptures? For what does it stand?

One interpreter (Nehama Leibowitz) claims that Joseph is the only one of the tribes described as tzadik, “righteous,” but she doesn’t give a source for her claim and I couldn’t find it. However, assuming that she is right, why would that be? What in the story of Joseph demonstrates his righteousness?

The birthright is Joseph’s (1 Chronicles 5:2). Given that the Savior was born through the lineage of Judah (Matthew 1 and Luke 3), what is the significance of having the birthright? Why didn’t the Messiah come through the lineage of the birthright?

The connection between Joseph of old and the latter-day prophet, Joseph, is obvious. (See, for example, 2 Nephi 3.) What kinds of parallels can you see between the two Josephs? Why do you think those parallels are there? What do they teach us?

Many have seen parallels between the story of Joseph and the life of Christ. They see Joseph as a type of Christ. That Joseph is a savior of Israel is obvious. Can you think of any other parallels between Joseph and Christ? What is the point of such parallels? Why do the scriptures use types and shadows?

39 comments for “JEF Sunday School Lesson #12

  1. Joseph’s story perpetuates and also breaks the pattern of birthright inheritance. Perpetuates, because with Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and Ephraim, we see the younger son getting the birthright (was Abraham also a younger son?). Breaks, because in the cases of Isaac and Jacob, we see the other sons expelled from the land and the covenant, but with Joseph the other sons remain. Why? Clearly this had to happen eventually–Abraham was promised a “nation,” and if you keep singling out one son, you’ll never have a nation. What is so special about Joseph? Or is it something special about Jacob?

  2. BrianJ: That so much of Genesis is Joseph’s story suggests that it was something special about Joseph–though the fact that what we think of as the story of Joseph begins “these are the generations of Jacob” (Genesis 37:2) makes me skittish about being too confident in that. In what sense is the story of Joseph really the story of Jacob? The story begins with “these are the generations” and it ends with Jacob blessing his sons in chapter 49, the final reconciliation of the brothers in chapter 50, and Joseph’s genealogy at the end of 50. I’m not sure what to make of that.

  3. Yes, I had been quite comfortable reading Ch 37-50 as being Joseph’s story ever since I first read them. Then, last week, I went through your notes for Lesson 11 and you made me rethink all of it. Thanks a lot (99% sincere with just a touch of sarcasm).

  4. I’m jumping into the middle of something here, so feel free to dismiss what I say if it isn’t relevant.

    The story of Joseph is so prominent in Genesis for many reasons. I will offer two, and both have typological significance.

    1. The younger son receiving the birthright is a type of Christ. Adam is the first son of God born into the world. Jesus is the second son. Only through the second son can the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant be realized. The covenant rests on recognizing the rightful claim to the blessings of the second son. I can explain that in much greater detail, if anyone is interested.

    The second point is that Joseph’s story parallels the experience of Christ. Joseph is the suffering servant (Isaiah 53), who through his suffering prepares a way to save the world. The temporal salvation is also the spiritual salvation of the children of Israel and the Gentiles. Joeph saves everyone, because his mission, as he so beautifully expresses it, is that “God did send me before you to preserve life” and “to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance.”

    The story of Joseph reveals the great deliverance to happen in the world through the incarnation and atonement of Christ.

  5. Neal, I’m curious about your first point regarding the covenant giving the rightful claim to the second son, can you elaborate?

    I’ve been reading some rabbinic literature regarding the first two letters of Genesis, and why the second letter (bet) appears before the first (aleph). I’ve posted some of the key issues here, with some longer sermons linked at the bottom. My sense is this is a bit too . . . well, Midrashic . . . for most Christian’s tastes, but I think the topic is very interesting for the reasons you mention. I’m planning to add some pages on the Feast wiki about the phrase “the last shall be first and the first shall be last”, but haven’t gotten around to it yet….

  6. Yes Brian, but then also wasn’t Joseph “expelled from the land” through Joseph’s being sold into Egypt?

    So it could only be after Joshua’s subjugation of it that Joseph’s two sons obtained this land of ther inheritance. (At least according to the inspired biblical account–yet realistically, there might have been nomadic Hebrews of Jacob’s descent who had never come to reside with the children of Isreal in Egypt, of which group it appears Judah’s clan would likely have been the most dominant–as also seems to be the case in Genesis.)

  7. Joseph as Tzaddik
    Joseph of Egypt is known in many midrash as the Tzaddik. These include the Babylonian Talmud Yoma 35b, Bet Ha Midrash 93:7, Tanhuma Bereshit5, Pirque de Rabbi Eliazer 38. Each of these midrash discuss Joseph as a Tzaddik in reference to Amos 2:6 which reads:

    “Thus saith the LORD; For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because they sold the RIGHTEOUS (tzaddik) for SILVER, and the poor for a pair of SHOES.”

    The reference here is to Joseph who was sold for silver. In addition sources such as the Sepher Ha Yasher suggest that the brothers used the money to buy shoes. Another account says that when Joseph was in the pit/well that the angel Gabriel brought him a garment that had existed in Eden and that the brothers demanded that the buyers give them shoes in addition to the silver in exchange for the clothes on Joseph’s back.

    Thus the Tzaddik referenced in Amos 2:6 is Joseph.

    p.s. Joseph’s association with the devine attribute of FOUNDATION also has much to say about the parrellel between both Noah, Joseph of Egypt, Jesus, and Joseph Smith.

  8. Neal
    Don’t forget that this is also the difference between the Yahwist and the Elohist account. As the second group the Northern Kingdom (Elohist) thought they were the rightful heirs to the Abrahamic Covenant. Thus it is the Elohist account that pushes the idea of the 2nd son being the most important.

  9. Clinton, thanks for your fascinating insights, as always. I’m confused on your P.S. in comment #7, can you elaborate? What’s Joseph’s association with the divine attribute of FOUNDATION??

  10. “The birthright is Joseph’s. Given that the Savior was born through the lineage of Judah, what is the significance of having the birthright? Why didn’t the Messiah come through the lineage of the birthright?

    Within Jewish midrash (ex. Sepher Ha Zohar), Joseph is associated with the number 6 while Judah is associated with the number 7. As such Joseph is considered righteous while Judah is considered the complete. A rough analogy for this is found in the creation story in Genesis 1. There you will find the same pattern – the world is finished on the sixth day [Joseph] and on the seventh day [Judah] God gets to lay back and enjoy creation. It is interesting to think about this when you consider the responsibilities of the Joseph and his 2 sons Ephraim and Mannassah (Did I spell that correctly?). Their job is to prepare the world for the coming of the Messiah. At this point Judah gets to enjoy the Kingdom of God.

    Mormons will of course note with interest the fact that the Joseph Smith is the head of the 6th dispensation. It should come as no surprise that most members of the church are descendent of, or adopted into, the tribe of Ephraim and Mannassah. We could also bring up Joseph’s interpretation of Joseph Ben Joseph and his relationship to Joseph of Egypt. How does this information about Joseph help us think about the restoration?

    Robert #9 – According to Jewish mystical beliefs, God has 10 attributes. The 6th manifest attribute is known as Yesod which is translated in English as Foundation. Joseph is associated with this attribute. Noah is also known in the Bible as a Tzaddik and is associated with Yesod. This suggests that there are allegorical similarities between these 2 biblical characters. What are the similarities? Additionally in Jewish lore the Messiah and the Bride of Messiah (often called the Shekinah) meet at Yesod [Yes I am making an innuendo here]. How does this inform us about the attributes of Joseph? Are their similarities between Noah and Joseph when we discuss fruitfullness? Finally, a little bit tounge-in-cheek … what does this tell us about Joseph Smith? What does the connection between Noah and Joseph, or at least his progeny, play into the story we find in the Book of Mormon?

    Also note that in the last lesson a compare and contrast was made between Judah and Joseph. The comparison talked about how one was chased and chaste while the other was not. Judah is associated with the 7th manifest devine attibute of Malkuth (translated in English as Kingdom.) It is important to note the fate of Judah’s progeny in regards to the Kingdom. Additionally Kingdom is always associated with Shekinah/ the Bride of the Messiah. How is the bride of Messiah ALWAYS represented in the scriptures? What does this tell you about the character of Judah and his posterity? Similar allusions are made in the New Testament when the Church is associated with the Bride of Christ? What does this tell us about ourselves?

    Robert C. – Sorry about the reference to Foundation w/o explanation. I was baiting you. The truth is that I probably should have kept my mouth shut. I am note sure this is the right forum to discuss Jewish mystical interpretations of the Bible and I don’t want to offend the Mormon audience here.

  11. Clinton, first, I don’t think you should hesitate to post about Jewish mysticism here, I think most readers here find it very interesting as do I, and since Jewish mysticism isn’t exactly an easy literature for a beginner to get a handle on, I think I’m not alone in being very grateful for your insights. Furthermore, I think rabbinical works have an attractive feature for Mormons: when they agree with our beliefs we can take them as confirmation of the truth, but when they disagree with our beliefs we can write them off as misguided untruths (I’m partly joking but partly serious, since I think this is how Nibley seemed to use ancient texts…).

    Of course this is Jim F.’s forum, and I hope he doesn’t hesitate to set me straight if I’m misstating.

    Second, I’m really curious as to the different views on Judah in rabbinic literature. He seems morally ambivalent to me—sparing Joseph’s life Gen 37, but then callous and promiscuous in Gen 38. I’m not sure how to read Gen 44 yet, which is partly why I’m asking, though I think there’s evidence that he becomes a better person at the end of Gen 38. If Judah was the one who was not chased and chaste, it seems at first blush incongruous to have him associated with the 7th manifest divine attribute….

  12. Robert, from an entirely secular point of view, maybe the Judah lineage versus Joseph lineage problems reflects these underlying realities:

    1st, Judah was the heir of Jacob.

    2nd, Joseph was given to intermediaries who in turn turned him over to the hegemonic empire in Egypt. (Early civlizations sometimes ransom sons of nomadic tribal princes to hold them as ransom, so as to (1) have a hostage in case the nomads begin to sack and plunder the empire, (2) teach members of the tribe the ways of civilization. (As an example: The LDS Indian placement program of the 1970s, even, in a way.)

    With time, Joseph’s family became a dynasty with regard to Hebrew tribal affairs under Egyptian suzerainty.

    Enter that Egyptianized Hebrew Moses, who marries into the Hebrews’ Levite priest caste.

    Moses writes the Torah. And so therefore the torah reflects these realities:

    1) Incidents having to do with Judah’s tribal rulings with regard to the inheritance reflect the original Hebrew tribal folkways.

    2) Incidents having to do with Joseph reflect more sophisticated type of religious pieties as would be expected to be engendered within a civilized environment such as that of the Egyptians.

    3)And in fact, the heir of the Levite caste, Aaron’s, religious practices differed from that of the amazing reforms instituted by the prophet Moses.

    Yet Moses claims his practices–as are to be enjoined upon the Hebrew’s by The All Powerful Jehovah–were the same as had been adhered to by the tribal lords: the patriarchs “Joseph as had been sold into Egypt” (as well as his brothers somewhat), Jacob, Isaac, Abraham.

  13. #11 Robert C.
    I have copied this from the Jewish Encyclopedia on the Yahwist and Elohist accounts:
    “The narratives concerning Joseph (Gen. xxxvii. and xxxix.-1.) are composed of two principal strata: a Jahvistic stratum and an Elohistic one…. According to the Jahvistic narrative, Joseph is rescued by Judah when his brethren plot against him, and is afterward sold to Ishmaelites, who in turn sell him to an Egyptian of high position whose name is not given. The wife of this Egyptian brings an accusation against Joseph, and he is cast into prison; but the jailer makes him overseer of the other prisoners. The Jahvistic account of his escape from prison has been omitted; and in the sequel nothing is said about Simeon’s becoming a hostage. The brethren open their sacks at a halting-place and find their money; Judah offers to become surety to his father for Benjamin’s return; the Israelites settle in the land of Goshen; and Jacob’s life closes with his poetic blessing.
    In the Elohistic portions Joseph is rescued from his other brethren by Reuben and thrown into a pit, from which he is taken and sold to the Midianites; they in turn sell him to Potiphar, captain of the guard, who makes him ruler over the prisoners confined in his house. Afterward, when his brethren are accused of being spies, they volunteer the information about the younger brother. Simeon is left in Egypt as a hostage; the others open their sacks at the end of their homeward journey; Reuben offers to become security for Benjamin’s return; and there is no mention of Goshen. In other respects the narratives seem to have been closely parallel.”

    Though I am not sure I understand all of what is written above, the gist I take away is that the Elohist (Northern Kingdom) is emphasizing the role of Reuben in trying to help Joseph while the Yahwist (Southern Kingdom) is ephasizing the role of Judah. This may give you something to think about when you ponder the “different views on Judah.” I think you are entirely correct – you are getting mixed messages from the text about Judah. This is because the different authors have different agendas.

    You also said “it seems at first blush incongruous to have him associated with the 7th manifest divine attribute.” In fact it is ENTIRELY congruous with Judah being associated with the 7th manifest devine attribute. The 7th devine manifest attribute is associated with the “Bride of Messiah/Christ”. As such Judah is the harlot who becomes the chaste wife. You are right Judah “becomes a better person at the end.”

    The Jewish Mystical explanation of Chapter 38 is difficult to explain. I will try to keep this simple. Joseph and Judah could have attained the same attribute of FOUNDATION (the attribute of FOUNDATION is higher than that of KINGDOM). The inclusion of chapter 38 explains why Judah is associated with the lowest attribute of KINGDOM while JOSEPH (the morally upright son) is associated with the higher attribute of FOUNDATION. Chapter 38 is meant as a compare and contrast to Joseph’s actions in Potiphers home.

  14. Clinton, thanks again. I found this article that takes a Kabbilistic approach to Joseph by an interesting group that studes the New Testatment as a Hebrew text. The article makes some insightful comments about Joseph as a type of the Messiah (in the sections titled “Messiah as Tzaddik” and “Descending to Ascend”).

    Without taking any position on the “truth” of Kabbalah, I think studying the sephirot tree of life—esp. as interpreted here—is very enlightening for reading scripture. Browsing these sites brought several new symbolic connections to mind.

  15. Clinton, though I don’t myself put much stock in Jewish mystical interpretations, I have no reason to “forbid” others from doing so. Perhaps some will find those things helpful, so I don’t mind you posting them as long as they don’t take over the thread so that it is about Jewish mysticism rather than the materials for the Sunday School lesson. That hasn’t happened so far, so I don’t worry much about it happening.

    However, I may disagree with you about the significance of the various possible redactions of the text. Even if we suppose that the standard scholarly story about the various strata of the Old Testament text is true–and I think there are very good reasons to believe that it or something like it is true–as that theory is often used, it does not take into account the final redaction. Someone put the two or three texts together and made a whole from them. When he did, we have no good reason to suppose that he did so willy-nilly. Surely he was not a blind editor. He created what he saw as a whole out of the texts available to him. We who accept the Old Testament as canonical have agreed that the redacted text is authoritative for us, which means–I think–that our interest is in the meaning of the text as the final redactor understood it, regardless of how many texts he was working from when he made his redaction.

    It is historically, linguistically, anthropologically, . . . interesting what the Yahwist, Elohist, and other earlier redactors were doing with their stories, but the question for religious rather than scholarly interpreters of the Bible is “What does this text mean in its final redaction?” That doesn’t mean that there can’t have been mistakes in the Bible. I’m certainly not a believer in inerrancy. It doesn’t mean that we can’t wonder about things like which texts are superior. But if we take the Old Testament to be canonical, which Mormons do, then I think that has to be our fundamental question.

    One could ask a lot of questions about canonicity. Especially Latter-day Saints could. What does it mean to have a canon if we don’t take them to be inerrant and, in fact, reject some of them (such as the Song of Solomon)? What does it mean to have a canon if we believe in prophets, continuing revelation, and that the canon is not closed? I think we have a lot of thinking to do about what we mean by “canon.” Nevertheless, we do have one, and it at least means that we take the received text as the text that we study (for whatever reasons).

  16. I found this discussion from a Kabbalah group studying the New Testament insightful regarding Joseph as a type of the Messiah (see the sections titled “Messiah as Tzaddik” and “Descending to Ascend”). I also thought this discussion of the Sephiroth Tree of Life is an interesting framework to consider when reading scriptures—poking around this sight made me think about several symbolic connections that I hadn’t considered before, so thanks again Clinton. (It took me a while to realize the number significance you mention above is only considering the 7 lower of the 10 attributes, since Yesod and Malkuth are often numbered 9 and 10….)

    On a separate (though distantly related) note, the question for Gen 45:6-8 regarding our intentions vs. God’s plans has really got me thinking, not just about this story, but several other stories: Tamar’s actions toward Judah (Gen 38), Jacob and Rachel’s exchange in Gen 30:1-4, Jacob’s obtaining of the birthright (Gen 27), and even the stories of Sarah and Hagar (Gen 16:2-4) and Abraham’s servant and Rebekah (Gen 24). In each of these stories there seems to be either an action of taking matters into one’s own hands or, conversely, somehow trusting in divine providence. I think it’s overly simplistic to try to say that in every case taking matters into one’s own hands is wrong, but this incident in Gen 45 seems to tilt the balance a bit in that direction.

  17. …Tilts the balance in that direction because God’s will is going to be accomplished regardless of our actions, so we don’t need to worry about steadying the ark (1 Chr 13:10). Of course the counter-weight principle is that we have to “do many things of their own free will” (D&C 58:27). I think the tension between these two ideas is something that should keep us on our spiritual toes.

  18. I looked up in strongs exhaustive concordance-I see where butler is a cup bearer.. but baker.. means, a baker… can you explain how you got royal scribe?

  19. Robert C.– I really liked your last comment about taking things into your own hands. I noticed the same parallels, and it perhaps goes back even further. Is this not what Eve did? As for whether or not this is wrong or right, I think the jury is still out on that one. It seems that in most cases the Lord ratified what was done on personal initiative. One could argue whether the prophecies were fulfilled despite or because of the questionable means used by those involved, but it could be a good debate.

    As for Tamar, who’s to say she had not received revelation in her own right and knew that the Messiah was to come through her seed? There seems to be some pretty serious interest in her having seed (interest by Judah, and by God–striking down the brother for “spilling the seed”). Did she know more than the record says? Did she “play the harlot” for this reason? Knowing that it was through Judah’s seed and through her that this crucial promise would be fulfilled? This was obviously an act of desperation. Was she just another in a long line of imperfect and ingenius women doing the best they could to help prophecy be fulfilled? It’s not like she sat by the wayside on a regular basis for her personal enjoyment or to support herself. In fact, she was risking her life (and almost lost it) to do so. Did she really want to have a baby THAT bad, or was she compelled by a knowledge of how important her seed was? Judah comes out looking much worse than Tamar here, as he rightly states. Was this really any different from Ruth and Boaz? And the lineage of the Savior comes through both Tamar and Ruth. History could have ignored or glossed over both of their accounts, and yet they are both mentioned by name and their stories told in great detail. Why?

  20. I realize that last comment probably has more to do with last week’s lesson. Sorry, I am reading them simultaneously and interchangeably this morning.

  21. Patty: We don’t know what the person’s actual position was; “royal scribe” is just a good guess. The first problem is that it is unlikely that the actual baker was a member of the Pharaoh’s personal household staff. But there may have been someone who the title “baker” based on some past event. Potiphar is literally “the head butcher,” but it is doubtful that was his job. Probably the head butcher was once the head of the guard for some reason, and the head of the guard retained that name. Or, it could be that we just don’t know how to translate the word. The fact that we are translating Egyptian terms into Hebrew terms and then into English ones makes that highly likely.

    Vergote (Joseph en Egypte 37) argues that the Hebrew word that we translate “baker” was as close in sound to the Egyptian word as the writer could get, that the Hebrew is a transliteration rather than a translation. Kitchen (New bible Dictionary 658) argues that the term that the KJV translates “baker” was a royal scribe. (By the way, I get this information not directly from Vergote and Kitchen, but via the Word Biblical Commentary (2:381).)

  22. Joseph actually was an eldest son (of Rachel), so after Reuben disqualified himself, it doesn’t seem as illogical to give the birthright to the next “eldest son” even though he was the eleventh born. Seems like there were a lot of other potential candidates (Simeon as Leah’s second, then Judah after Simeon and Levi sin killing Shechem etc, then Dan as the potential firstborn of Rachel through Bilhah), so the jealousy and strife is understandable. As in other scriptural stories, it looks like the birthright has a lot to do with righteousness and not just birth order.

  23. I wonder, what kind of woman would it be who could attract the interest of the Hebrew patriarch or tribal lord would choose to be the mother to his designated heir? Well, let’s see. Sarah was so sophisticatedly beguiling that when Abram went to Egypt he thought it best to pass her off as his sister, lest Pharoah, the hegemonic emperor find some pretext to find some pretext to put Abram out of the way so that Pharoah could try and woo her. And then this exact same pattern prevailed with Isaac and his wife, with Pharoah (as well as one other hegemonic power’s overlord).

    It was common practice in for Fertile Crescent the nomadic patoralists to sacrifice male heirs.

    Whomever Tamar was, she was someone of enough breeding and standing to have been chosen as the wife of Judah’s oldest son. However, this heir of Judah, her husband, was taken by God (/burned?) If Tamar’s brother-in-law Onan produces no heir with Tamar, Onan himself will be heir–in any case, for whatever reason, Tamar never becomes pregnant and Onan himself is burned, after which Judah dallies for years, never presenting Tamar to his third son in the interest of producing his heir through her. But one day Tamar turns up pregnant anyway(!) which prompts Judah to declare that Tamar should be burned as well. (Except of course Tamar comes up with Judah’s cloak, staff, and ring at which point it is revealed to all that Judah had mistaken the veiled Tamar as a ferlility priestess which had resulted in Judah’s having left Tamar these personal items as his “troth”–to have been returned to Judah when the consecrated offering of one kid from Judah’s flock was to have been presented to this priestess. But this fertility priestess had simply disappeared into thin air!–that is until Tamar had showed up pregnant.)

    From the above it appears that (1) it may well have been against Hebrew “covenant with Lord Jehovah” /tribal folkways for a lord to wed his widowed daughter-in-law (2) it was not against tribal practices for a lord, at least, to not only wed concubines but to have daliances with priestesses either of whom were outside of the tribe.

  24. Judah’s brother Joseph had been sold into Egypt while Judah remains a nomad (with the Hebrew nomads’ tribal folkways being more seat-of-the-pants and the Egyptians’ ways being more sophisticated).

    Generations later, the Egyptianized Hebrew Moses has married into the Hebrews’ Levite priest caste. The heir of this priest caste was named Aaron. Aaron’s two oldest sons are consumed by altar fire; Aaron has people worshipping a bull; all manner of licentious conduct is practiced.

    During a spiritual quest on a mountain Moses talks with the All Powerful Jehovah in a burning bush. Jehovah says

    to make no graven images of beasts

    to not shed innocent blood

    to neither covet nor commit adultery.

    PRIOR to Moses, the covenant with Jehovah had been verbal and had been interpretted by the tribal lord. However WITH Moses, Jehovah–who possessed the mystery of writing by his own hand–enabled his covenant with the Hebrews was written and codified. This codification resulted in no more golden calves, no more sacrifices of sons at mere the mere discression of tribal lord for some minor offenses (that is, a condemned party must be found guilty of some codified transgression).

  25. Kathy J, wow, thanks for making that connection with Eve, I hadn’t thought of that. I find that connection very interesting in light of all the discussion about the fall a couple months ago (I still think we can’t say whether things might not have worked out, possibly even better, had they not partaken of the fruit—but it’s a moot point b/c they did, and God knew they would, something that can probably be said for all the other similar episodes too…). For me this puts bookends on Genesis regarding the theme of human action and God’s will: God will take human actions (good and bad) and turn them for our good.

  26. Robert C: I have enjoyed all of your posts, especially #25: “For me this puts bookends on Genesis regarding the theme of human action and God’s will: God will take human actions (good and bad) and turn them for our good.” That has to be the most uplifting message I have heard in a long time. Thanks!

  27. Just a note from my lesson preparation: I chose to focus on the forgiveness and reconciliation theme in these chapters (Gen 40-50). I wanted to draw parallels between the way Joseph showed forgiveness and reconciliation and the way other scriptural figures did the same. When I began the excercise, I thought, “Forgiveness is at the heart of Christianity–Pres. Hinckley even called it the ‘most needed’ virtue in Oct 2005 Gen Conf–so there must be tons of stories that show it.” So I made a list. And it was a very short list:

    1) Nephi says he “frankly forgave” his brothers (1 Ne 21). That’s all the detail we get (so not really an example we can follow closely).

    2) Prodigal son is received by his father. But in this story, the father is not the target of his sons actions. Also, other than emotional stress (which would have been great, no doubt), the father is not “injured”; he is still wealthy, healthy, etc. So the father in this story shows us how God forgives us: we don’t actually “hurt” God when we sin and he accepts us wholly when we repent. This story doesn’t focus on showing us how to forgive others.

    3) The story of W.W. Phelps betraying Joseph Smith. (But that’s not actually in the scriptures, so I’m kind of cheating here.)

    4) And the story of Joseph in Egypt. A story that shows horrible, callous, premeditated wrongs against Joseph, followed by his losing everything (even freedom), suffering in jail, and worrying whether he would be executed. Then Joseph sets the example of how to forgive. It wasn’t enough to just say, “Forget about it.” Joseph reached out to them, wept with them, told them not to be angry at themselves, nourished them, comforted them. In other words, Joseph put at least as much effort into the reconciliation as all of his brothers combined. With that ratio in mind, I would say gaining forgiveness is much easier than giving it. (What a tough example to follow!)

    All the other instances of forgiveness were about man gaining forgiveness from God/Jesus. There were plenty of commandments that we should forgive others, just not examples of how.

    Isn’t the Old Testament great?!

  28. BrianJ: It is an interesting question why, if forgiveness is (as I think it rightly is) the heart of Christianity, we don’t see more examples of it in scripture. The story of Joseph and his brothers is a great story about forgiveness, but there perhaps no others comparable. Why not? Is it because it is so rare? Surely in thousands of years of human history, there have been other great examples of human forgiveness. Why, then, don’t we see more of them in scripture?

  29. Yikes! I forgot one example in post 27. When Paul/Saul is accepted by the Church after he is visited by the Lord. He certainly caused the Church great pain, yet they received him well.

    JimF, post #28: I don’t know. I wish I could say it is because Joseph’s example is so perfect (complete, exhaustive) that we don’t need more examples. As many times as I have read his story, I still get very emotional reading it. Only a few other scriptures have the same impact on me.

  30. BrianJ, I should’ve given Paul credit for my statement above, I’m not that insightful: “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God . . . according to [his] purpose.” (Rom 8:28)

    Regarding forgiveness, I used Esau in Gen 33 with my 12-14 year-olds and it seemed to go over well—Esau not only as an example in forgiving Jacob, but an example of why we can’t judge others as all good or all bad (I taught Jacob and Rebekah’s actions as being dubious, though they probably probably had good motivations b/c of Esau’s disinterest in the birthright). I’m always surprised how spiritually mature these kids are, they seemed more comfotable with this notion (that most people have good and bad in them) than most of us adults are….

  31. Also, emphasizing Jacob and Esau’s reconciliation set up a nice contrast with Simeon and Levi’s vengeful actionsin Gen 34 (which I was tempted to skip over in my class of kids, but kept feeling that would be a mistake; turns out this helped motivate the brothers’ desire to kill/sell Joseph, they weren’t exactly a group focused on peace, love, and happiness—well, maybe love, but the not exactly the chaste kind…).

  32. A question came up in my lesson that we didn’t have time to fully examine. In Gen 45:8, it reads, “So now it was not you that sent me hither, but God: and he hath made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a aruler• throughout all the land of Egypt.”

    Why is Joseph re-writing history? I understand that God may have intended or desired Joseph to become the father of Egypt, but it was neither God nor inspiration from God to have the brothers sell Joseph sold into slavery. That was their doing — they made the decision, motivated by less-than-godlike attributes of jealousy, hatred, and envy. It was wrong of them to do it, and doesn’t pretending that it was God’s doing unnecessarily lessen the burden of responsibility? I understand that Joseph forgave his brothers for what they did, but in doing so, did he have to pretend that it didn’t happen the way it did? If this is intended by Joseph to show his brothers that something great came out of their poor decisions, then I think there are better ways in which to express that.

    Any thoughts?

  33. #14,#16, and #17

    I am glad you enjoy the added symbolism to be found in the Old and New Testament. YashaNET’s is a Messianic Judaism group that has interesting views. If you have added interest on the subject then I would suggest the Sepher Ha Zohar. The new version by Matt is excellent. Trust me when I say I have NO desire to hijack this thread. I don’t have the time to contribute copiously. Finally I agree that Kabbalistic interpretation are “tricky.”

  34. Mel E. (#32): It was customary in the time of the Bible to give God credit for everything. Thus the verses that say things like “God changed Pharaoh’s heart” and these kinds of statements. The way of recognizing the hand of God in all things was to credit them to him.

    Clinton: I hope you will contribute ideas from Kabbala as they arise. I think it helps others see that there are many way of interpreting the scriptures, and many layers of meaning in them.

  35. Mel E., I think this is related to the issue we’re trying to get at in comments #16, #17, #19, #25, and #30 above, though you seem to be coming from a slightly different angle.

    In addition to Jim’s point (which I think also pertains to the “God slew Onan” phraseology, mentioned in one of the comments above), I think Joseph expressing his forgiveness this way makes a very strong statement about the fact that God foreknew this would happen, or at least provided that it would work out for the best in the end.

    To me, this underscores an important aspect of repentance and forgiveness, that once we receive forgiveness we can move on with our lives, without dwelling on “what if’s”, unduly wondering what might’ve happened if we hadn’t sinned (cf. Phil 3:13; click on the Discussion tab for some additional comments). One could argue this is also the point of Ether 12:27: although perhaps God doesn’t literally give or cause our weakness, he has allowed it and makes allowances for it in his Plan of Salvation as well as in his individual-specific, dynamic, mapped-out plan for each of our lives. (I think I’m just speculating at this point…).

  36. Robert C.– I like the recurring message that God will turn all things, even our own imperfect actions, to the benefit of those who love and serve him (even if Paul did say it first). It is very liberating when we apply that in our lives. We can go ahead and strive and try out our imperfect solutions and plans (like Sarah, Rebekah, and Isaac’s servant did), parent in our imperfect ways, teach our imperfect lessons, take our best shot at interpreting revelation in making decisions (even big ones) and not feel weighted down by all the eternal damage we must certainly be doing. Makes the gift of agency all that much more useful and sweet. It provides a perfect balance to the rest of the Joseph story–that all the things that happen to us (other people’s use and abuse of their agency) will also be turned to our benefit if we seek the Lord in all things. What a balanced message. Whatever imperfect things we do and whatever imperfect things we suffer, it will all lead to salvation if we keep our eye single, our hope intact, and our faith strong. I think that will have to be part of what we talk about tomorrow.

    Now that I’m re-reading this, I’m thinking–maybe that’s a major theme of Genesis–agency and how it fits into the plans and purposes of God. The book began (OK, if we look at Moses) with a war to defend it, and a decision to agressively apply it (partaking of the Tree of Knowledge), then we get example after example of what people do with it and how those decisions affected them and those around them, as well as the very clear message that, use it as we will, we can’t thwart the purposes of God with it. It’s almost as if He is saying, “Go ahead, give it your best shot, and I’ll work with you.” like he did with the brother of Jared and the lights in the boats (well those weren’t his exact words;^)).

  37. Jim F: I’ve been reconsidering my question in post #1, “What is so special about Joseph?” and I think I may be guilty of being too Ephraim-centric. Looking at Judah’s humble admission of guilt and unworthiness regarding Tamar, his care of Benjamin, his concern for his father, and the space given to Judah for a long speech, I now wonder of I should have asked, “What is so special about Judah?”

  38. BrianJ: Aren’t you thinking of “special,” i.e., “chosen,” as if the chosen one is better than or more privileged than the others? If so, that doesn’t seem to me to be what the Old Testament shows us. It shows us the chosen nation as a nation chosen to do a work, namely to represent the people of the world before God in priestly service. That is what the covenant in Exodus 19:5-6 seems to me to say.

    To choose a tool to do a job isn’t to say that it is the best tool in the shop. It is merely to say that it is (1) available and (2) suited for the job. You can’t even conclude that it is the best of all the tools for this particular job, since there might be multiple tools that could do the job equally well. This might just happen to be the one chosen out of several that were equally possible. As I understand LDS doctrine, we are now the chosen people (which is not to say that God has forgotten or will forget his ancient covenant with Israel). But that only means that we have a work to do, not that we are better than anyone else. The same reasoning could apply to Joseph or Judah or . . . .

  39. Jim F: I didn’t mean “special” to come across that way. I meant it as “different” or “unique.” There was a pattern where only one of Abraham’s sons was chosen and then only one of Isaac’s. Even if that could be explained by Ishmael’s and Esau’s unrighteousness, that wouldn’t explain why Reuben and Simeon and–well, 10 of Jacob’s sons were still “chosen.” So I was looking for reasons why the pattern changed: what did the people do differently that might have caused the change?

    If I understand your analogy, you are saying that the people didn’t have all that much to do with it. Rather, it was a different time and place and God needed them as the right tool. I don’t really like that argument, because it leaves me feeling like there is no individual component to becoming chosen, and if that is true then I am confused by D&C “many are called, but few are chosen….” I realize that I might be totally missing your point, which is my fault for staying up too late, or you may be right and I just have to accept that explanation whether I like it or not.

    I should say, then, that I do see the “chosen one” as more priveleged than the “not chosen,” at least in the sense that I think it is a privelege to commune with the Lord, have his commandments, etc. When I read Esau’s response to losing the blessing, I get the sense that he feels like he has lost something valuable–so valuable that he tries to “ring the last drop of blessing” out of Jacob.

    I have been discussing this question off and on at work with a Jewish friend. He had an interesting idea that he promised to run past his rabbi this weekend. I’ll keep you posted.

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