Genesis 37:1-28; 50:15-21 Exploring the Passage

Below are some preliminary questions to assist in the study of this passage. For a comprehensive study of the passage, download the Study Guide (PDF download).

Note: For more information relevant to this present passage of Genesis 37, see the accompanying Appendix (PDF download) that provides the complete Scripture text of Genesis chapter 38 and Genesis chapters 42-45.

1. What attitude did Joseph’s brothers harbor against him? What caused them to have this attitude? See Genesis 37:4 (printed below) Does this excuse them?

Joseph’s brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers; so they hated him and could not speak peaceably with him. (Genesis 37:4)

We are told that Joseph’s brothers “hated him” (Genesis 37:4). Their hatred was motivated by jealousy (Genesis 37:4). The brothers might seek to justify their hostility toward Joseph by appealing to “mitigating circumstances,” namely, the fact that Joseph was the favored son of their father. But mitigating circumstances test character—it was hard for the brothers to see their father make Joseph the special object of his loving favor and to have Joseph recite to them the divinely given dreams of pre-eminence that were granted to him—such circumstances do not excuse a lapse of character.

2. How did the brothers’ attitude express itself towards Joseph? See Genesis 37:4,18-20 and 26-27 (printed below)

Joseph’s brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers; so they hated him and could not speak peaceably with him…(18) They saw him from a distance. Before he came near to them, they plotted against him to kill him. (19) They said to each other, Look, here comes that dreamer. (20) Come, let us kill him and throw his body into one of these cisterns. We will say, A wild animal has devoured him; then we shall see what becomes of his dreams…(26) Judah said to his brothers, What profit is there if we kill our brother and cover up our crime? (27) Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let us not lay our hands on him; for he is our brother, our own flesh. His brothers agreed with him. (Genesis 37:4,18-20,26-27)

Genesis 37:4 tells us that because of their hatred towards Joseph, his brothers “could not speak peaceably with him.” The remainder of Genesis 37 relates how the brothers’ hatred of Joseph expressed itself in their actions. They conspired to kill him (verses 18-20)—but in the providence of God Reuben intervened to rescue his brother from death (verses 21-22). The brothers next proceed to sell Joseph into slavery (verses 26-27).

3. What are we told about Judah’s behavior in Genesis 38:1-2,12,15-16 (printed below?)

Judah left his brothers and went down to stay with a man of Adullam named Hirah. (2) There Judah met the daughter of a Canaanite man named Shua. He married her and lay with her…(12) After a long time Judah’s wife, the daughter of Shua, died. When Judah had recovered from his grief, he went up to Timnah, to the men who were shearing his sheep, and his friend Hirah the Adullamite went with him…(15) When Judah saw her (his daughter-in-law, Tamar), he thought she was a prostitute, for she had covered her face. (16) Not realizing that she was his daughter-in-law, he went over to her by the roadside and said, Come now, let me sleep with you. (Genesis 38:1-2,12,15-16)

Genesis 38 gives an account of Judah’s involvement with the Canaanite culture. Judah establishes a close relationship with Hirah, the Adullamite (verse 1). Literally, “Judah pitched his tent next to a man of Adullam,” so as to enter into friendly relations with him (Commentaries on the Old Testament, The Pentateuch Vol.1, Keil and Delitzsch, p.339). Judah soon proceeds to marry the daughter of a certain Canaanite named Shuah (verses 2). Some time after the death of his wife, Judah engages in an act of immorality with a woman he mistakenly assumes to be a pagan cultic prostitute; but in fact, it is his daughter-in-law, Tamar (verses 15-16). Verse 21 speaks of “the prostitute,” or, literally, “the consecrated woman;” i.e., she was consecrated to the Canaanite goddess of fertility (Keil and Delitzsch, p.341), here is a pagan perversion of the holy and the sacred.

4. Commentators have noted that Genesis 38 (describing Judah’s immoral affair) “interrupts” the story of Joseph that was begun in Genesis 37 and is resumed in Genesis 39. Why do you think Genesis 38 is inserted at this point in the narrative of Joseph’s life?

As Genesis 39 immediately resumes the account of Joseph in Egypt, picking up where Genesis 37 left off, it appears at first as though Genesis 38 is a “misplaced, unnecessary intrusion” upon the story of Joseph; but such is not the case. An Old Testament commentator points out the significance of Genesis 38 and the role it plays in the story of Joseph: “The…sketch from the life of Judah is intended to show that the sons of Jacob were in danger of forgetting their sacred calling by making marriages with Canaanite women; and by so doing, putting themselves in danger of perishing in the sin of Canaan. Such would have happened had not the mercy of God intervened by leading Joseph into Egypt to prepare the way for the removal of the whole house of Jacob to that land. This protected the family from the corrupting influence of the manners and customs of Canaan just as it was expanding into a nation.’ (Keil and Delitzsch, pp.338-339) Genesis 38 shows why it was necessary for God to send Joseph ahead to prepare a place for Israel in Egypt, and why it was necessary for the Lord to temporarily remove Israel from Canaan—which He did by means of the adversity of famine.

5. When the brothers encounter Joseph in his capacity as a high-ranking Egyptian official, what is their initial reaction? See Genesis 45:3 (printed below) How are Joseph and his brothers reconciled to one another? See Genesis 45:4-7,15 (printed below.)

Joseph said to his brothers, I am Joseph! Is my father still living? But his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence. (Genesis 45:3)

Then Joseph said to his brothers, Come close to me. When they had done so, he said, I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! (5) And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. (6) For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will not be plowing and reaping. (7) But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance…(15) And he kissed all his brothers and wept over them. Afterward his brothers talked with him. (Genesis 45:4-7,15)

When Joseph finally reveals himself to his brothers the brothers’ initial reaction is to be “terrified at his presence,” so much so that they were speechless (Genesis 45:3). Joseph calms their fears by assuring them of God’s good purposes in the whole affair (Genesis 45:4-7), and he kissed all his brothers (Genesis 45:15). Note: Joseph’s display of mercy helped his brothers to confess and deal with their sin. After the death of their father, the brothers approach Joseph and humbly request his forgiveness (Genesis 50:17), which he graciously grants them. In the case of Joseph’s brothers, God used the adversities they encountered as a means of bringing them to an acknowledgment of their sin and to the gaining of full reconciliation with their brother—the Lord was using adversities for their sanctification.