Ron Hals, one of the professors of Old Testament from whom I learned at Trinity Lutheran Seminary, told us about the time when he and his wife had decided to read the Bible together over the course of the year and came to one of those boring genealogies in the Old Testament. "Ron," he reported his wife saying, "why do we have to read this? Is it really important?" "It must be," he supposedly said, "it's in there."
Genesis 36, with its genealogy, is "in there" and may actually be important. But as we continue to look at Genesis, I'm going to skip over it in these notes and move onto Genesis 37.
Genesis 37 begins what, with one inexplicable departure, will be the extended tale of the final chapters of this book. It also introduces us to the most unique member of the Patriarchal family, Joseph. Whereas his forebears were furtive and fleeting in their faithfulness, once he reaches his maturity and its accompanying adversities, Joseph exhibits incredible faithfulness and confidence. To me, he is the most admirable figure in the Old Testament and I wish I were more like him.
1. As Genesis 37 begins though, the narrator's story of Joseph sets us up for observing a leading characteristic of people of faith: They change. They mature. They grow.
Joseph is a snot-nosed kid favored by his father. He's a tattle tale. (Although the tattling may be an earlier manifestation of a gift Joseph would later evidence, that of administration. I surmise that the tale he told Jacob may have been of sloppy practices on the part of his shepherd brothers.) Joseph is also the recipient of dreams, a significant charism (gift) from God. Those dreams, which he appears to share with relish with his brothers, indicate that one day, though the next-to-youngest, will be lord over the others.
One of the biggest problems we have as human beings is to think that those gifts that come to us from God--whether talents, spiritual gifts, or divinely-arranged experiences--are our achievements and justify feelings of arrogance or entitlement in us. Actually, the opposite is the case. Such gifts are trusts from God to be employed with confidence but not arrogance. The young Joseph had not yet learned this lesson.
2. Why Jacob decided to send Joseph on this mission to his brothers is unclear. It certainly would have been difficult for him to imagine that his other sons would be as treacherous to Joseph as they proved to be. But he hardly could have thought that Joseph's visits would be regarded as anything other than spying.
3. Joseph ends up enslaved, although his brothers imply to Jacob that he was killed by a wild animal. As wrong as the brothers' actions and as horrible as Jacob's fate, we will learn through the course of the Joseph narrative that God is at work. First, he will use adversity to transform Joseph into the humble and confident servant he needs to be. Second, he will use the transformed Joseph for His greater purposes. In the end, the brothers will bow to Joseph. But that will bring no satisfaction to Joseph. Rather, he will derive his greatest satisfaction from using the gifts of God to serve God's purposes in the world. That's why I say that I wish I were more like Joseph.
[Here are links to the previous installments in this series: