Our reading today begins with Jacob being sent back to Bethel, where Abraham and Isaac had lived. Let’s not forget that there’s good reason for this. His sons, especially Simeon and Levi, had killed all the men of Shechem because it’s rulers son had raped their sister.
Jacob needed to get out of that area, and God got him out.
The rest of chapter 35 and all of chapter 36 are devoted to genealogies. These are not just genealogies, however. These lists are to give the origins of the nations of Israel and Edom, the descendants of the Isaac’s twin sons, Jacob and Esau. Later, after the captivity in Egypt, which we will read about soon enough, Edom will be treated as a brother nation to Israel, as will Moab and Ammon (sons of Lot and thus cousins of Jacob), and receive more kindly dealings than the other nations of the Land of Canaan and the lands west of Canaan.
Few of us really want to pay attention to genealogies. I personally don’t object to people who skip genealogies, but …
One way to remember and make use of genealogies—and to make them more interesting!—is to write them down. Actually chart them. In the case of this passage, you could make a list of Esau’s son and grandsons, seeing who belongs to whom. (Yes, I actually do things like this.)
To what purpose?
In chapter 37 Joseph goes looking for his brothers near Shechem. If we’re paying attention to city names, or maybe even charting them on a map, we’ll see that his brothers were pasturing the flocks near their old home, where they’re probably hated. When Joseph gets there, however, they’ve moved on to a place called Dothan. That’s one of the sheiks of the land of Edom that we read about in chapter 36. Even if the specific town is unknown today, we can follow their journey because we know where the land of Edom was.
In fact, perhaps we can add a little drama to Joseph’s trip. He was asking about his brothers near a town in which they had killed all the men. How dangerous was it for Joseph even to ask? Did he purposely avoid the names of Simeon and Levi? Did he have to avoid mentioning that he was Jacob’s son?
Is it possible that the very reason that the brothers left is because they were chased off or were nervous that they would be?
Further, in 37:2, the Law takes the time to point out that Joseph "told" on his brothers, but only on the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah. There the Scripture calls them Jacob’s wives, but if you’ve been following the genealogies, then you know that those were his concubines. They had only two children each. Those were Dan, Naphatali, Gad, and Asher.
Did the bad report Joseph gave have anything to do with their being the sons of concubines? Did those four brothers hate him more than the others? Reuben, after all, the son of Leah, tried to rescue him from his brothers.
Similarly, to whom was Joseph sold? Both Ishmaelites and Midianites are mentioned. Who are they?
You probably remember that the Ishmaelites are descendants of Abraham through Sarai’s maid, Hagar. You may not remember that Abraham remarried after Sarah’s death and had Midian as a child of Keturah (Gen. 25:1-2).
In chapter 37 we are introduced to Joseph, one of the finest examples of a God-follower in all of Scripture. May we all learn to be like him.
Joseph’s worst fault was his indiscretion as a youth. His brothers hated him because he was Jacob’s favorite, and he didn’t do anything to make it better. He almost seemed to revel in it.
On Jacob’s side, all fathers should know the dangers of picking a favorite among their children and then displaying that favoritism to the other children! Very foolish! And in Jacob’s case, it came back to bite him in an awful way. His other children wound up in gross sin—they were going to murder their brother until Reuben saved them from their own hatred—and he went for years believing Joseph was dead.
God worked it all for good in the end, but that doesn’t justify the sin that makes it bad in the beginning.
In the midst of Joseph’s indiscretions, however, it is good to notice the difference between the way Joseph’s brothers reacted to his dreams and the way Israel reacted. Joseph’s brothers hated him even more and gave no thought to the dream. Israel was angry, but he "kept the saying in mind" (37:11, NASB).
We would do well to learn from this. It is not unusual for God to send us a prophecy—or, even more likely, a warning—from a source that we do not want to hear from. If we can’t swallow our anger or pride to acknowledge the truth of what we’ve heard, we may find ourselves acknowledging the truth in a much more awkward situation. We’ll see that’s exactly what happened to Joseph’s brothers, but not to Israel, as we proceed in Genesis.
Along the way, though, Joseph is incredible humbled by his circumstances. He appears to take it with a remarkable grace, trusting God all along the way, and taking revenge on no one, even if he does turn out to have a little fun with his brothers.
We’ll discuss the grace bestowed upon Joseph tomorrow when he arises from the ashes of slavery and prison to become the king of Egypt! We’ll also discuss dreams and prophecy then as well.
Judah and Tamar
The story of Judah and Tamar is horrifying. I’ll not retell it here. A couple comments, though.
Widows were unlikely to be able to support themselves in those times (and in most third-world countries in our times). That a brother would marry a widow is an act of kindness, though it is odd in our society.
The end of that story, resulting in Judah fathering his own grandson, is an example of something we had better all beware of: humans are prone to hypocrisy. Judah was going to put Tamar to death for an act that he participated in!
Hopefully, you have been raised better than to consort with prostitutes, but do not think that if you become a condemning person, that you will also find the ability to avoid becoming a hypocrite. God gives grace to the humble, but he finds a way for the proud to fall (Prov. 3:34; 1 Pet. 5:5).
A final word on this story. We do not know how Er and Onan died. What I can tell you is that the statement that the LORD killed them does not imply any specific way of dying. When people live evil, and something bad befalls them, or they die young, people attribute it (often rightly) to God.