Lesson 10: Joseph (Genesis 37- 50)

Ever since seminary, I have been aware Genesis is a series of stories put together by an editor or editors. I also early on recognized that the Joseph story is the most beautifully written in the book. This is the first time, however, that I noticed the editors seem to have laid out a plot that leads to Joseph.

The Joseph story develops themes we’ve noted throughout Genesis, such as the conflict between brothers and the threat of foreign nations. But most importantly it answers the primary question we have been pondering: “What is God up to?”

Let’s begin with what it says about human nature. The hero once again is not the oldest brother to whom society would give the inheritance. He is the smart younger one who bests his hard-working siblings.

The Cain and Abel story leaves you with many questions when it quickly tells of God’s favoring of one man inciting his brother to murder him. There is a bit of that here as you could read Joseph’s ability to interpret dreams indicating God’s favor. But the plot relies more on Jacob’s unwise pampering of a clever son.

Still the story is far more complicated than a black and white presentation of sin. Joseph rubs you the wrong way when he brags as a youth and makes his brothers squirm as an adult. The brothers don’t murder but go one better when they get rid of the pest and make some money as well.

Joseph ends up as a slave in Egypt where his good looks get him into trouble and his ability to interpret dreams brings him great wealth and power. In the end, he is able to save those who wanted to kill him.

However, the message of the story is really about God’s action, not human nature. The punch line is certainly, “What you meant for evil, God used for good.” What seemed to be humans manipulating God turns out to be God using human evil for God’s own purposes. God employs human treachery to get Joseph into Egypt where he can save his chosen people from starvation. And as Genesis has repeatedly reminded us, this is God’s way of eventually blessing all nations.

The story concludes with Joseph’s response. Inspired by God’s forgiveness, he forgives his brothers. Genesis examines extensively humanity’s rejection of God’s care but even more, it reveals God’s unceasing efforts to heal the broken relationship. To a certain extent, the Bible simply develops this idea of good overcoming evil. God loves us so we love one another.

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