Study Guide

Joseph in Book of Genesis

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Dream, Dream, Dream 

If ever a kid were precocious, it was Doogie Howser. Oh, we mean Joseph. Yeah, Joseph.

In a Brady Bunch-type family, Joseph is the golden child. Basically, little Joey is a bit of a tattle-tale (37:2), and in exchange for being the pet, he gets some major bling, in the form of a multi-colored coat (KJV), or, in newer translations, a fancy coat with sleeves (37:3 NRSV). That was like having an Imelda Marcos collection of shoes.

If that weren't enough to make his brothers hate him, Joseph is a dreamer. Like, an actual dreamer. This kid has dreams in which his brothers bow down to him. And oh yeah, Mom and Dad bow down, too (37:9). Every teen's dream and every sibling's nightmare, right?

Joseph's brothers take matters into their own hands by selling their pesky younger brother into slavery (37:28). Don't try this at home. Luckily for Joseph, he's got the Midas touch. Whatever he touches earns a blue ribbon (39:3-5).

Mr. Perfect

Did we mention that Mr. Perfect also looks like Brad Pitt (39:6) and acts a little like Mother Teresa (39:8-9)? Joseph is definitely a new kind of hero for Genesis. So far, all the main characters have been pretty scoundrely. Abraham gets his wife put into another guy's harem (12:17-19) and Jacob steals the shirt off his brother's back (25:30-34), for starters. But Joseph is the genuine article. He doesn't disappoint his fans.

After climbing the corporate ladder of Egyptian slavery (39:6), Joseph is falsely accused of sleeping with the boss's wife (39:16-18) and locked away for a good long time. Not to worry, though. This guy may wobble, but he doesn't fall down. Even in prison, he gets to be top dog, keeping the joint ship-shape and looking out for the other members of the chain gang (39:22). Who is this guy?

In prison, Joe discovers yet a new talent: he can interpret the dreams of others (40:8). This eventually buys him a get out of jail free card and a ticket into the lap of luxury as Pharaoh's VP, where he saves Egypt from its own Great Depression (41:53-57).

What does all this success mean?

Genesis sums it up by saying, "the Lord was with him" (39:3 NRSV). On one hand, Joseph is grabbing the baton of the deity's promise to his ancestors to give them descendants and land (50:24). But there's also a seismic shift in the way Joseph relates to the deity. Joseph and God seem to be more intimate than in previous generations; Joseph talks like they're on a first name basis (45:7-9). We even hear a character say that the "spirit of God" is in this guy (41:38). Now that's close.

Is it us, or has the deity gotten a shade less mysterious and strange as this book ends?

Grand Finale

In the end, Joseph's dreams come true. In the worst of the Genesis famines, his brothers come to him to buy grain, and, not recognizing him as the pimply teenager they threw into a pit, they bow down to him (42:6-9). Ah, narrative irony. And finally (finally!), Joseph appears a tad bit human by toying with his brothers.

But not to be seen as anything less than legendary, his last words are a grand finale indeed as he foreshadows the exodus, God's deliverance of the Hebrew people (50:25).

Not a bad way to go.

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