Dreams in prison (Genesis 40:1–8)

“Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams,” his brothers said as they threw Joseph in a pit (37:20). He had big dreams of ruling the sun, moon and stars (37:9). Instead, we find him in a dungeon with no control over his own life, ordered to serve prisoners (40:4).

So, serving prisoners is what Joseph does. One morning a couple of them looked more dejected than ever. “Why the long face?” he enquires (40:7). Turns out they had dreams too.

Continue reading “Dreams in prison (Genesis 40:1–8)”

Finding God in an unjust world (Genesis 39)

How did Joseph cope with treachery and accusations from a sexual predator?

Role-reversal stories help us break down our stereotypes and cultural bias. As a boy, I was warned against seductive females like Potiphar’s wife, but I don’t remember being warned against mistreating women as the men of Genesis did: Pharaoh (Genesis 12:15), Abimelek (20:2; 26:8), and Hamor (34:2).

Maybe the real issue is power rather than gender. Those three guys were all kings or princes. And Potiphar’s wife held all the power while Joseph was merely a slave.

Women are devalued in patriarchal society. Judah’s mistreatment of Tamar isn’t resolved until he realizes that, even though she used her sexuality against him, She is more righteous than I (38:26).

So, rather than treating gender as the problem in the conflict between male and female, could we make some progress by identifying abuse of power as the real issue? The role-reversal story of Genesis 39 suggests that might be a productive approach.

What happens when the woman has all the power, and the male is her slave?

Continue reading “Finding God in an unjust world (Genesis 39)”

Was Judah fit to rule? (Genesis 38)

Why interrupt Joseph’s story with the scandal of Judah and Tamar?

Judah is quite the cad in Genesis 38. But why interrupt the story of Joseph with a scandalous story about Judah?

That’s the puzzle for modern readers. As one of them said, All commentators agree that ch. 38 clearly interrupts the flow of the Joseph story (Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, NICOT, 2:431).

It makes more sense if we listen to the narrator who labelled Genesis 37–50 as the generations of Jacob, not Joseph’s story. Jacob was setting up his family, and he intended Joseph to rule.

But wasn’t Judah supposed to rule? King David descended from Judah. Didn’t Jacob intend the lion from the tribe of Judah to receive the ruler’s sceptre? (49:9-10)

Yes, but let’s not jump there too quickly. There are issues with Judah’s character, issues that call into question whether Judah is fit to rule. Would you trust a leader who would sell his brother into slavery? (37:26). Genesis 38 gives us more reason to question Judah’s character.

Continue reading “Was Judah fit to rule? (Genesis 38)”

Was Joseph meant to rule his brothers? (Genesis 37)

Why did his brothers sell Joseph into slavery?

Genesis is the foundational story of the kingdom of God. It starts with all God’s creatures in the care of his human servants who live in his garden. When they rebel, God sets in motion his plan to bring everything and everyone back under his sovereign care, starting with a prototype kingdom through the family of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

We saw how the different stages of this story are clearly marked by the tô·lē·ḏôṯ formula, the final one being, These are the generations of Jacob. (37:2). Observing these cues helps us avoid twisting the story into our own image.

But why is this Jacob’s story? People usually treat Genesis 37–50 as the story of Joseph. His name is mentioned 151 times, twice as often as Jacob/Israel (73 times). We’ve heard Jacob’s name more frequently in previous chapters (150 times in Genesis 25–36), so why does the narrator say we’ve now reached Jacob’s story?

Continue reading “Was Joseph meant to rule his brothers? (Genesis 37)”

Why is the first book in the Bible called Genesis?

You’ll know how the story fits together if you know why it’s called Genesis.

Genesis is a Greek word (γένεσις) meaning birth, how something came to be, the account of a family.

The Septuagint translators (c. 200 BC) used genesis to translate tô·lē·ḏôṯ — a Hebrew word meaning a record of descendants or successors. The narrator used this word at key points. Watch for it, and you’ll see how the book fits together.

Continue reading “Why is the first book in the Bible called Genesis?”

Pastoral care case: Genesis 16

Here’s a practical exercise in pastoral care, hearing people in their pain.

Wherever you care for people — family, small groups, churches, counselling — you’ll feel the whole gamut of emotions. Empathy for their pain. Disappointment with how they treat each other. Hope that they’ll sort things out. Powerlessness to sort it out for them.

We’d love to have our churches full of mature people who have the faith of Abraham and Sarah, but sometimes our people feel more like the problem than the solution. So, here’s some honest pastoral encouragement for you. Your clients are Abraham and Sarah, as we meet them in Genesis 16.

They have this amazing call on their lives to establish a kingdom that will bless all nations. Ten years they’ve walked with God in the land of promise, but they still have their old names and they’re struggling to trust God.

We’re shocked to learn that Abram is sleeping with someone who isn’t his wife. Actually, that’s not what happened, and if that’s our judgement we won’t be able to listen to them.

So, here’s your pastoral care exercise. Read Genesis 16 carefully. Observe the three main characters. Identify what they’re feeling, and what they do in response. Jot down your observations.

Sarai: . . . . . . . . . . . .

Abram: . . . . . . . . . . . .

Hagar: . . . . . . . . . . . .

Continue reading “Pastoral care case: Genesis 16”

Joseph: servant of the king (podcast) (Genesis 37–50)

How did the patriarch Joseph contribute to the story of the kingdom of God? This podcast (20 minutes) shows us how to hear the story of Joseph as the story of God.

We’ve now surveyed Genesis in four podcasts. The previous three:

The Scripture Index contains 75 articles on Genesis if you’d like more detail.

 


Image: Egyptian throne, Tutankhamun exhibition.

Jacob and the kingdom of God (podcast) (Genesis 25–36)

This podcast (27 minutes) discusses the significance of Jacob for the kingdom of God.

Jacob was Israel in the first generation. His life story is told in Genesis 25–36 in a way that his descendants could relate to, for the promises he received were being fulfilled through them.

 

Previous podcasts

Abraham and the obstacles to God’s kingdom (podcast) (Genesis 12–25)

Abraham lived his entire life for the kingdom of God.

This podcast (28 minutes) surveys Genesis 12–25 as the foundational story of the kingdom of God.

God founded his human rescue project in Abraham and Sarah. They left the region of the Babel-builders to establish a nation under God — a representative kingdom of God among the nations. The obstacles they faced are the obstacles that threaten God’s kingdom project. They trusted God, even though restoring God’s kingdom would take many lifetimes.

When I first blogged these thoughts four years ago, it became my most popular post (downloaded more than 10,000 times). Enjoy this podcast version.

 


Previous podcast: The world is God’s kingdom (Gen. 1–11)

The world is God’s kingdom (podcast) (Genesis 1–11)

If you grew up thinking of the Bible’s opening chapters as a collection of disconnected stories (a creation, a fall, a murder, a flood, a Babel tower), you need to hear this podcast (38 minutes).

The first eleven chapters of Genesis set up the plotline for the Bible’s whole narrative. The intrigue of this story puts a Gresham novel in the shade.

 


Previous podcasts:

For related posts on Genesis 1-11, see the Scripture Index.

Esau’s ordinary kingdom (Genesis 36)

Esau’s kingdom story is such a contrast to the kingdom God is establishing through Jacob.

petra
Petra (in ancient Edom)

If you miss the kingdom perspective, you may wonder why Genesis 36 is in the Bible. It’s a repetitive jumble of names associated with Esau. Sure, Esau was Abraham and Sarah’s grandson; God promised them nations; and Esau has a nation. But there’s too much detail to just say that. Something else is going on. Continue reading “Esau’s ordinary kingdom (Genesis 36)”

Jacob’s life in God’s house (Genesis 35)

Jacob is invited to live in God’s house (Bethel). How well do they do?

Bethel—literally God’s House—is where Jacob is invited to live. But if they are to live in the house of their heavenly sovereign, they must purify themselves. After the skirmish with the Shechemites, the smell of death is on them and their clothes. Among the spoils are idols and talismans. When these impediments are gone, they enter Bethel. The surrounding cities are too terrified to seek vengeance on these servants of the heavenly king (35:1-5). Continue reading “Jacob’s life in God’s house (Genesis 35)”

Were Simeon and Levi justified? (Genesis 34:30-31)

Dinah’s brothers defended her honour by killing the Shechemites. Were they justified in making a stand for righteousness?

justicescales

Were Simeon and Levi justified in standing up for righteousness by killing the Canaanite prince who raped their sister, along with all his people? We’re examining how later Jews judged their actions. Continue reading “Were Simeon and Levi justified? (Genesis 34:30-31)”

How do we fight injustice? (Genesis 34:3-31)

Should God’s kingdom people enforce justice on the nations? Or should we just suck up the injustice? How do you respond to evil?

The unanswered question of Genesis 34 is how to respond to evil. Jacob’s family will be the agents of the kingdom of God in years to come, but how should they respond right now when a Canaanite prince rapes Dinah? Injustice remains a relevant question. Continue reading “How do we fight injustice? (Genesis 34:3-31)”

When you get hurt (Genesis 34:1-2)

If God doesn’t prevent bad things happening, how do we cope?

respondingtoabuse

Now that Israel is in the land with the sons who will form the tribes of Israel, how will they represent the heavenly king in the presence of people who do not submit to him? The nations do not submit to God’s laws. Driven by their own passions, they take whatever they want by force.

We’ve seen this picture ever since Nimrod the warrior of Genesis 10. It’s devastating:

Genesis 34:1–2 (ESV)
1
Now Dinah the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to see the women of the land. 2 And when Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, the prince of the land, saw her, he seized her and lay with her and humiliated her.

Are you tempted to stop reading, to skip to something more pleasant? You really need this text if you think, “God’s running the world, so he’ll never let anything bad happen to me.” That belief will fail you. Neither can you blame Dinah, as if she must have been doing something wrong or it wouldn’t have happened to her. Verse 1 explicitly sets up the story by saying she was behaving well in her culture. Don’t blame the victim. Continue reading “When you get hurt (Genesis 34:1-2)”

Living among people who don’t recognize God (Genesis 33)

As God’s representative, Jacob must make peace with Esau and the people of Canaan.

He’s no longer Jacob, the usurper who tries to take his brother’s birthright and blessing. Now he’s Israel—the one who embraces God, even when it’s a struggle. The God of Bethel has been here all along, and now Israel has returned to live in the land that is the house of God. The sovereign living among his people — that’s the kingdom ideal.

But it’s not quite that straightforward. There are already people in the land: Esau to start with, and then the Canaanites. How can the kingdom of God ideal work for Israel in a world where others may not be keen to have them there? This was the major problem for the nation of Israel in the Old Testament, just as powers that refuse Jesus’ kingship have been the major threat to Christians in the last two millennia. Continue reading “Living among people who don’t recognize God (Genesis 33)”

Israel and the face of God (Genesis 32:22-32)

Why did God accost Jacob as he crossed back into the Land?

“A man” wrestled with Jacob all night. It’s the strangest story. Jacob is 97 years old, but “the man” can’t throw Jacob off and eventually has to ask Jacob to let him go (32:24-26). It gets even stranger when Jacob says he’s been wrestling with God (32:29-30). Continue reading “Israel and the face of God (Genesis 32:22-32)”

Jacob’s reconciliatory gift (Genesis 32:13-21)

How do you sort out a relationship with someone who wants you dead?

Jacob fears for his life. Esau will kill him if he believes he’s coming to claim the inheritance. Why else would he bring a posse of 400 men (32:6)? Continue reading “Jacob’s reconciliatory gift (Genesis 32:13-21)”

Discovering God’s army (Genesis 32:1-12)

Jacob was petrified of facing Esau, until he found he had a bigger fight on his hands.

I hope that reading the Bible as the story of the God’s kingdom is helping unfold its core message to you. It really does make a huge difference. Even those who write commentaries on the Bible have difficulty making sense of the text if they miss this perspective. Continue reading “Discovering God’s army (Genesis 32:1-12)”

When running is bad for your health (Genesis 31)

Run, or reconcile?

Jacob has a history of running instead of sorting things out. Remember how he ran from Esau? Well, it’s happening again. It tends to do that when you don’t resolve things. Continue reading “When running is bad for your health (Genesis 31)”