This is a page that focuses on religious and theological issues, as well as providing comprehensive teaching from a classic Catholic perspective. As you read the articles, it is my hope they will educate and bless you.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Genesis the Book of Beginnings Part 36 - Esau's Family, Judah's Sin, and Introduction to Joseph's Story (Chapters 36-40)

As we begin this lesson, from the outset we are going to be skipping around a little as there is a sort of interspersion of parts to this aspect of the story.  Therefore, we will begin this lesson in Chapter 36, then go to Chapter 38, and then revisit Chapter 37 and connect it to Chapters 38-39.  Genesis has been noteworthy for having "intermissions" in the story throughout the narrative, and this one is similar to those as the story of Joseph, which covers pretty much the remainder of the book, is interspersed with a brief genealogy of Esau in Chapter 36 - this will be the last reference to Esau in Genesis - and also a moral transgression by Judah with his daughter-in-law Tamar in Chapter 38.  The structure of this lesson will parse together the parts of Joseph's story that are divided by the Judah account in Chapter 38.

As we begin in Chapter 36, the whole chapter is a genealogy of Esau's family.   After this genealogy, little is said about Esau in Scripture, as he and his descendants have little involvement with the plan of salvation that God is communicating through Scripture.  However, in the extrabiblical texts, Esau is mentioned first in Jasher 56, where he mourns his brother's death and then has a dispute with Joseph over Jacob's burial, as Esau's family is trying to resist the burial.  A battle ensues, and Joseph along with his Egyptian allies, prevail and Jacob is laid to rest.  However, this causes a war that ensues all the way through Jasher 60, when a grandson of Esau's, Zepho, is said to have fled from the Egyptians and somehow becomes a ruler in Italy.  Esau is recorded in Jasher 56:64 as being killed in battle by Dan's son Chushim, and he is decapitated at that time just prior to Jacob's burial.  So, then, it is the extrabiblical sources that record the death of Esau rather than Genesis, but this is understandable as again Esau's lineage plays little part in the overall plan of salvation recorded in Scripture itself (references to Jasher from Ken Johnson, The Ancient Book of Jasher.  Olathe, KS:  Biblefacts Ministries, 2008.  pp. 126-141).  

Returning to the Genesis account, the genealogy of Esau is summarized in the chart below regarding Genesis 36:1-30:


Esau had 3 wives, all of whom are documented in this passage - Adah was a daughter of Elon the Hittite, Oholibamah the daughter of a man named Ana, and Basemath is Ishmael's daughter.  The chart above though misdocumented one thing - Eliphaz, Esau's son, had Amalek as a son by one of his concubines Timnah, and the others mentioned are also Eliphaz's rather than Esau's sons.  Amalek would later by the progenitor of his own nation, the Amalekites, who would figure prominently during the era of the Judges later as the early Israelites had to contend a lot with the Amalekites in the land of Canaan.

From verses 31 to the end of the chapter, there are a list of Edomite kings that extends for several generations, and no doubt this was included in the Genesis account to provide background for the later dealings that Moses and his successors would have in Canaan with Edom and others.  It is also worth mention that a later descendant of Esau would rule Judah - during the Hasmonean period many centuries later, as the Hasmoneans began to have internal conflicts among themselves and Rome was starting to take advantage, an opportunist named Antipater seizes the opportunity to court Rome and gain influence over the Judean court, and eventually he even marries one of his sons to a daughter of one of the Hasmoneans.  Antipater was an Idumaean, which means he was from a region east of the Dead Sea called Idumaea, which is a Latinized name for Edom, the land of Esau's descendants.  In essence, Antipater was a descendant of Esau, and his sons, the Herodians, would rule the region for at least three generations.  Although adopting the Jewish religion (at least outwardly) and gaining favor with the Sadduccee caste in Palestine at the time, the Herodians were thoroughly Edomite in origin.  It was one of the few times a descendant of Esau ruled over the children of Israel, but many centuries later.

Proceeding now to Chapter 38, we have the story of Judah and his daughter-in-law Tamar.  The story starts with Judah taking a Canaanite woman by the name of Shua as a wife, and she bears him three sons - Er, Onan, and Shelah.  When Er, Judah's oldest, comes of age, he arranges a marriage for him with a beautiful local girl named Tamar.  However, Er is apparently not a nice guy, as the Scriptural account in this chapter records him as being evil, and a course of divine judgment ends his life.  As was the custom, the widow Tamar is then given to the next brother, Onan.  Onan apparently has some scruples about him, and doesn't feel right about the arrangement, and rather than consummating his marriage with Tamar, he instead ejaculates his sperm on the ground.  This action of Onan's is also seen as evil by God, as there would soon be strict commandments against this sort of thing in later Mosaic law as recorded in Leviticus, so Onan loses his life in judgment as well.  Tamar is promised by Judah to the third son, Shelah, but Shelah is still too young yet to marry.  Therefore, until Shelah comes of age, Tamar is sent back to her family.   In the same time period, Judah's wife Shua dies, and in order to cope with the loss and as part of the mourning process, Judah goes to the nearby area of Timnah to sheer sheep with his herdsmen.  Tamar finds out that Judah is in the area, and fearing for her own lack of posterity and the fact that she would be much older than her betrothed, she conspires to seduce Judah into bearing children by dressing up as a prostitute and seducing him.

Obviously, consorting with whores was wrong, and Judah should have known better.  However, he decided to indulge himself of some "pleasure," and negotiates to pay Tamar (whose identity is hidden) a goat in payment for her "services."  Knowing full well what she was doing, Tamar coyly makes Judah pledge on the payment by asking for his signet ring and staff (signs of his authority) as collateral until payment is made, and Judah obliges her.   Judah's tryst with Tamar results in a pregnancy, which was her plan, and this presents a problem.  When Judah tries to pay the supposed whore for her "services" by sending the goat to her, she is nowhere to be found and the local people know of no prostitutes in their town.  However, in due time Judah does learn of the pregnancy, and he initially wants her killed as a penalty for her fornication (since she was legally betrothed to Judah's son Shelah, technically this would have been considered an act of adultery).

Upon demanding the father of the child's identity, Tamar sends to Judah his own staff and ring with a message that they belong to the father.  Judah by this time feels stupid about it, and despite the embarrassment caused by the whole incident, he acknowledges what he did and never "knew" her again.  In due course of time though, Tamar gives birth, and she ends up having twins.  When the first - Zerah - puts out his hand, Tamar ties a scarlet thread around it, but the hand withdraws and the actual first-born - Perez - comes out first instead.  Perez would be the line from which eventually all the kings of Israel and Judah, as well as the future Messiah, would come.


Going back to Chapter 37, we now begin the story of Joseph, which will dominate the remainder of Genesis.  Joseph was first off a dreamer of dreams, and this is something that cannot be underestimated even today.  God often communicates to people, both in Biblical times and throughout history to today, through the imagery of dreams, and it is important not to dismiss dreams when one has them.  Now, obviously not all dreams are words from God - some are the result of too much Chinese food eaten too late, and others are just more or less a representation of things that may be on the person's mind which sort of manifest themselves in dream sequences.  However, there are times when dreams do carry significance, and it is important to maybe pay attention to them because they may be revealing something to us from God.  Joseph was one of those people who not only had the special vocation of being a "dreamer of dreams" but also he had a gift of understanding what he dreamed as well.  It is these dreams which form the impetus of the classic "rags to riches" story of Joseph that we will also continue to read about in the next couple of lessons.

The first part of the chapter shows that Joseph was a favorite of his father Jacob - he was the oldest son of his beloved wife Rachel, and probably a lot about Joseph reminded Jacob of her too.  Therefore, being a younger son and also the oldest of Rachel's, he was also spoiled to a degree too.  One of the gifts his father gave him was a vividly multi-colored coat.  Over the years, as people learned this story in Sunday Schools, it inspired a lot of creativity  - country star Dolly Parton even composed a song called "Coat of Many Colors" that was inspired by this story as it related to her poor Appalachian childhood, and of course megachurches throughout the United States have staged productions of a popular retelling of the story in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.   In the story though, we see a greater typology as many Church Fathers (notably Chrysostom) also observed - Jacob's love for Joseph prefigures God the Father's love for His only begotten Son, Jesus.  Many parallels of Jesus can be seen later in the life of Joseph as well, which will be discussed at appropriate sections of this study. 


Jacob's lavishing attention on Joseph was not lost in sight of his brothers, as they, through envy, grew to hate him.  Fueling this growing resentment further was a series of dreams Joseph had about his brothers and him - dreams of sheaths of wheat bowing to his, and the sun, moon, and stars bowing to him as well.  Even Jacob, despite his love of Joseph, has to rebuke him for such dreams.  In time, however, this would come to a head, and it would lead to a series of events which would shape the history of the embryonic Israelite nation for generations to come.

After some time, the brothers are starting to get to the point that they really hated Joseph, and they conspire to act on this hatred.  One day, Jacob sends Joseph out to the fields to check on his brothers, and possibly to bring them provisions, and they see their chance.  Initially, they want to kill him and stage it as if an animal mauled him to death, but older brother Reuben steps in and stops this before it is carried out.  Instead, they seize Joseph, strip his coat off him, and throw him in a pit.  A little while later, a group of Midianite traders heading for Egypt comes by, and Judah gets the "bright" idea to sell Joseph as a slave to them.   The Midianite Bedouins pay the brothers 20 pieces of gold for him, and they take him off to market in Egypt.  In this we have also a picture of Christ, who was sold for 30 pieces of silver due to the greed of an "older brother" named Judas.   After that transaction goes down, the brothers then kill a goat, dip Joseph's coat in it, and then tell their father Jacob that Joseph was devoured by a wild beast.  Jacob is devastated naturally by this tragedy, but of course Joseph is not dead at all - his story is just beginning! 


In Egypt, Joseph is sold as a slave to a captain in the Pharaoh's guard by the name of Potiphar.  In time, God's favor with Joseph leads Potiphar to trust him completely to run the affairs of his house, but there is a problem - Potiphar's oversexed wife.  Genesis records Potiphar as being a "eunuch," and if that were the case, it means that he probably didn't have any intimacy with his wife, and therefore she had "needs."  Joseph is young, virile, and soon attracts the attention of the lonely housewife, who then proceeds to attempt to seduce him.  Joseph knows this is wrong, and resists her advances, but in the course of that he attempts to flee but she strips his garment, and he runs away naked.  This is not looking good for Joseph at all at this point!   Not happy at being rejected, the lecherous wife of Potiphar plots revenge, and she accuses Joseph of trying to molest her!  Potiphar of course feels both upset and betrayed, and he casts Joseph in jail.  At this point, Joseph's life has hit bottom, but as we see later all of this was for a greater purpose. 

Artistic rendering of Joseph being sold to Potiphar

Painting of Potiphar's wife seducing Joseph

Joseph has hit rock-bottom at this point, but as my late mentor Fr. Eusebius Stephanou often said, this was one of those situations where "man's disappointment becomes God's appointment."  Although in an unfortunate situation in a foreign prison, Joseph displays a great deal of grace and becomes a model prisoner, earning the respect of the jail-keeper.   In time, the jail-keeper even promotes Joseph to look after other prisoners, and two of those other prisoners end up being right out of Pharaoh's palace.  The baker and the butler of the Pharaoh end up in jail because both of them did something apparently that ticked off their master.  At some point after their arrival, both of these men have dreams - the butler dreams of a three-branched grapevine that he harvests, makes into wine, and serves to the Pharaoh, while the baker dreams of having three baskets of baked goods on his head that are being eaten by black birds.    Joseph senses both of these men are troubled, and he asks them what is wrong.  So, they tell him of these dreams, and Joseph, being gifted in this area, interprets them for them.   The butler's dream represents a three-day period in which he would be released and restored to his position.  The baker's dream is bad news - in three days he will be executed by hanging and will himself be scavenged by birds.  Of course, all this comes to pass, and despite Joseph asking the butler to remember him, the cupbearer forgets and goes on with his life while Joseph stays in prison. There are several lessons in the cupbearer's attitude.  First, the cupbearer also forgot the witness Joseph provided of a God who delivered the cupbearer from his misfortune.  Second, the butler (cupbearer) was more enamoured with his own prestige than he was about the suffering of others.   Third, God actually allows the forgetfulness of the cupbearer to be part of His plan for Joseph later, as we see in the next lesson.  This reminds us both of Romans 8:28 - "all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose" - as well as the old axiom "coincidence is God being anonymous."   

The baker's dream

The butler's dream

In closing, there is no doubt God works even in adversity, although often we only see how it all comes together in retrospect.  Joseph's story serves to remind us that even in the midst of trials God is indeed with us, and it is an important lesson for all of us to learn that maybe we should look at a trial as an opportunity rather than a tragedy, and make the most of our situation.   As we will see in the next couple of lessons, this was an attitude Joseph embodies, and it would prove providential for him and indeed his whole family later.