What the crud, Joseph.
Today, as Joseph continues to use his position of authority to mess with his brothers, I want to take a look at two questions: where has God been in Joseph’s life, and how do people talk about him?
I don’t know what to make of today’s chapter. It’s the first of several concerning an extended deception that Jacob pulls on his brothers as the de facto ruler of Egypt. Why doesn’t he reveal outright that he’s their brother? Why does he keep Simeon in Egypt to ensure that the other brothers return with Benjamin? Why does he do so many things that cause his brothers no small amount of anxiety? I got questions.
In Genesis 41, Pharaoh has a pair of troubling dreams and is in need of an interpreter. It’s Joseph’s time to shine! This is the Dream Master’s big moment! Except that, while I’ve been riffing on his brothers’ epithet for him, “the Lord of Dreams,” the Lord of Dreams isn’t really Joseph at all. It’s God.
Happy Labor Day, Chocolate Bookers. As I begin this post, it’s Friday, and I am somewhere between Chicago and Charlotte, in the sky, traveling to spend the holiday weekend with family. Fortunately, though, I am not fleeing to visit my uncle because my brother will be out for my blood as soon as my father dies. No, I am going to visit my brother: and not to make amends for the time I ripped him off by trading him a bowl of soup for his inheritance and then tricked our dad into giving me the blessing meant for the elder son. My family owns no herds: not of goats, not of camels, and decidedly not of drama llamas. Anyway, in today’s chapter, Joseph the Dream Master comes into his own, so let’s check that business out.
The life of Joseph is a real riches-to-rags-to-riches-to-rags-to-riches story. He goes from the son of a prosperous owner of livestock to a commodity in human trafficking, to the chief steward for the captain of Pharaoh’s bodyguard to a prisoner in Pharaoh’s jails, to–well, let’s not spoil the surprise. But this chapter covers several of those moves in the ebb and flow of Joseph’s fortunes, so pull down that lap bar tight across your lap and lock in, because the metaphors we’re mixing today are not only personal economies and tidal phenomena, but also a roller coaster.
Having begun Joseph’s story in earnest, we now set it aside for yet another sidebar. And like many before it, this one is not for the flannelgraph; most retellings of Joseph’s adventures omit it for a reason (by which I mean specifically a reason other than Joseph’s complete absence from it). Genesis 38 tells the story of how Judah was tricked into having sex with his daughter-in-law Tamar.
Congratulations! You pushed your way through the obstacle course of names that is Esau’s genealogy. Or maybe you skipped it. Look, I don’t know your life. But however you got here, now you come to the beginning of Joseph’s story. And if Genesis broke stride for Esau’s family tree, here it picks up the pace with a vengeance.
It’s a genealogy, everybody. It’s literally just Esau’s descendants.
Sometimes a lot of different things happen in a chapter. In today’s chapter, for example, God tells Jacob to go dwell in Bethel, which Jacob does, and God has a message of blessing for him once he settles there. Also, people die: Rebekah’s nurse Deborah, Rachel as she gives birth to Jacob’s twelfth son Benjamin, and then old Grandpa Isaac. If you can find a common theological or spiritual thread through all these events, more power to you. But as far as I can tell, the only theme tying them together is “some things pertaining to Jacob’s family happened in Canaan.” Sometimes chapters are like that.