Genesis 36:1 - 39:23
The section entitled, "The generations of Esau," begins with the first verse of Genesis 36, and continues to the first verse of Genesis 37. As in the case of Ishmael and Isaac, so again here the rejected line is mentioned first, but with brevity, and chronology is not pursued in connection with it. The selected line comes second and then sufficient dates are given to enable us to follow the passing of the years. Thus is foreshadowed the fact, stated so clearly as a principle of God's ways, "He taketh away the first, that He may establish the second" (Heb. 10: 9).
The chapter shows us that Esau was prospered in earthly things so that the blessing of his father was fulfilled to him (27: 39, 40). He occupied his own territory, became quite independent of Jacob, his descendants multiplied and became chiefs and notorious. They not only became "dukes" but even "kings," and that before any king appeared in Israel's line. In earthly greatness and power the children of this world have always taken precedence over the children of God.
The chapter also shows quite clearly that Esau, Edom and Mount Seir are to be identified, when we find these names mentioned in later Scripture. Otherwise the many names mentioned may convey but little to us. The New Translation prefers in verse 24 the reading "found the warm springs in the wilderness," rather than "the mules." This was doubtless at that time a memorable discovery, but what spiritual significance this may have for us we do not know.
The generations of Jacob begin with Genesis 37: 2, and this is the last of these divisions of the book, continuing to the end. The first verse has told us that he dwelt in the land in which his father had been a stranger. In this he was moving ahead of God's purpose and hence presently God permitted circumstances to move him and his sons into Egypt, and thus all came to pass that had been predicted to Abraham in Genesis 15: 13, 14.
Here we may see a type of many a trying experience that intrudes itself to our Christian lives. God intends us to be strangers in the world that exists today. If we settle ourselves down and become dwellers, we may very easily find ourselves carried down into a spiritual Egypt and enslaved therein. So let us take the warning of this Scripture to heart.
The generations of Jacob are mainly occupied with the doings of his sons, who sprang out of him, and more especially with Joseph, to whom at the age of seventeen we are introduced in verse 2; It has been said that in him we have the most perfect and complete type of the Lord Jesus that we have in the Scripture, and we believe it to be true. In keeping with this we shall see that no sinful or unworthy action of his is put on record. Thus the value of his life is enhanced as a type, though he was a sinful man like the rest of us.
At the outset he is presented to us as the son specially beloved of his father on the one hand, and as dissociated from the evil ways of his brothers on the other. The former fact was signalized by the "coat of many colours," and the latter by Joseph bringing to his father the evil report of the doings of the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah. Thus is foreshadowed the unique Sonship of the Lord Jesus and His refusal of and separation from the evil ways of men.
As a result a complete breach supervened between Joseph and, his brethren. Knowing human nature it is just what we should expect in such a situation. The more it was manifest that he was specially beloved of his father, the more they hated him. To begin with their hatred affected their speech—they "could not speak peaceably unto him." Later their hatred flared up into wicked action. But we see at once a type of the One of whom Psalm 69 speaks prophetically "They . . . hate Me without a cause;" and again, "I am become a stranger unto My brethren, and an alien unto my mother's children."
Next there follows the record of Joseph's two dreams. Now it is remarkable how large a part was played by dreams in his history, since, before the climax is reached, no less than five are recorded, and every one of them contained a prophecy. Each of them therefore was produced by the finger of God touching the unconscious mind of the sleeper, and marked a Divine intervention, and indeed a revelation of secret things.
Both his dreams were prophetic of his coming eminence and glory, so clearly so that his brothers, and his father too, saw at once their meaning. The general drift was the same in both cases, but only the second suggested that his father and mother as well as his brothers would be bowing down to him in a future day. There was the further difference in that sheaves are connected with an earthly harvest, whereas sun, moon and stars are heavenly objects. The sun is a symbol of supreme authority, the moon of derived and associated authority, and Jacob saw at once how applicable this was to the place of father and mother in his large patriarchal family.
The recounting of these dreams fanned the flame of hatred greatly, as we see in verses 5, 8 and 11. His father rebuked him, under the impression that such an event as that indicated by the dream was impossible. Yet it is recorded that he "observed the saying," which shows that he could not dismiss it from his mind, and he recognized that there was more in it than he had thought at first. He had faith in God, even if it was weak; whereas the brethren had none.
The application of all this to the great Antitype, our Lord Jesus, is very striking. The Jews, His brethren according to the flesh, hated Him without a cause and rejected Him when He came amongst them, yet the day is coming when they will bow down before Him. But not only this: He is to be the central Object of worship to the heavens as well as the earth, for that which had been secret is now revealed, and we know that God's purpose according to His good pleasure is to "gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth" (Eph. 1: 10). How happily therefore we can sing,
"Firstborn of many brethren, Thou!
To whom both heaven and earth must bow."
Joseph's two dreams therefore not only foretold his own glorious future in Egypt, but also foreshadowed the supreme glory of Christ.
With verse 12 a fresh episode begins, in which we see Joseph sent by his father on a mission of kindly interest in his brethren. He sought them and found them in order to express his father's love toward them. Their response to this was not only hatred but premeditated murder, their crime to be hidden under cover of a lying report. They thought his dreams were but an idle fancy, which they could easily dissipate. They had to learn that they were a revelation of the purpose of God which they could not overthrow.
God defeated their evil project by touching the hearts of two of the brothers, Reuben and Judah. Of the two, Reuben appears in the better light. His purpose was to deliver him ultimately to his father again. Joseph was stripped of the coat which expressed the special place he had in his father's heart, and cast into a pit in which was no water. Judah supported Reuben in this, but during his absence took the lead in selling him to the Midianite merchantmen for twenty pieces of silver. Thus, though he did not actually die, Joseph went down into the pit, and was sold as a slave.
It is not difficult to see the typical value of all this. As we pass further into the Old Testament we find "the pit" becomes a symbol of death and destruction. In Psalm 69: 15, we find prophetic words, applicable to our Lord, " Let not the pit shut her mouth upon Me." The same figure is used in regard to the future deliverance of a godly remnant of Israel when the prophet said, "By the blood of thy covenant I have sent forth thy prisoners out of the pit wherein is no water" (Zech. 9: 11). In the same prophet also we read the prophetic words, "They weighed for My price thirty pieces of silver" (11: 12).
Verses 31-35, recount the crafty way in which Jacob was led to jump to the conclusion that Joseph had been killed and devoured by some evil beast. His brothers avoided the telling of a plain lie, they only inferred it, and Jacob fell into their trap. In Genesis 27 we read how Jacob by wearing Esau's garment deceived his blind father, Isaac. Esau's garment is called "goodly raiment," and as he was the elder it may have been something very similar to Joseph's "coat of many colours." By goodly raiment Jacob deceived his father: by goodly raiment his sons deceived him. As he meted out so it was measured to him again. God's government of His people works with great precision.
Meanwhile Joseph had been carried down into Egypt, just as though he had been some article of merchandise and again he was sold. His purchaser was Potiphar, the captain of the guard. Thus he was brought into a place of considerable danger, on the one hand, but of nearness to Pharaoh, on the other. Things began to work together for his ultimate good, though by no means apparent at the time.
We have the story of Joseph completely interrupted by Genesis 38. In Genesis 39 it is resumed and the great temptation that faced him is immediately recounted. It would seem that we have the deplorable story of Judah recounted in order to heighten the effect in our minds of the way Joseph stood firm under temptation of a similar kind. Judah appears to have been amongst the better behaved of the sons of Jacob, yet the practices that marked him and his family were evil, and evidently accepted as nothing very unusual. We need not dwell upon this, save to remark that the Tamar of this chapter is the first of the women mentioned in the genealogy of our Lord, recounted in Matthew 1. Of the four women mentioned, only Ruth had a clean record from the moral point of view, and she came of an accursed race. Such names would never have appeared in the record had it not been for the grace of God—the grace that triumphs over human sin.
The first verse of Genesis 39 picks up the thread from the last verse of Genesis 37. Potiphar was an Egyptian, as is specially mentioned. This might have seemed to us a quite unnecessary remark did we not know that at that time the ruling class in Egypt and even Pharaoh himself were an alien race. For several centuries Egypt was dominated by these "Shepherd Kings," or "Hyksos," much as China for a long time and until early this century was dominated by a Manchu dynasty. Potiphar was of true Egyptian stock, and was greatly prospered by the service of Joseph.
We are given the explanation of all that happened—"The Lord was with Joseph" —and, that being the case, all that he did prospered, and even what looked like disaster proved to be only a stepping-stone to something much better. Verses 3 and 4 lead us to remark the striking way in which Joseph's "hand" is mentioned in the story. The Lord being with him, He "made all that he did to prosper in his hand." The consequence of this was that he found favour with his master, and "all that he had he put into his hand." Naturally this was so. Though he did not know the explanation of it, Potiphar found he had made a first-rate bargain when he bought the young Semitic lad, who displayed such skilful powers coupled with God-fearing uprightness and integrity.
And not only this ease of mind as to the ordering of his household was enjoyed by him, but extraordinary good fortune marked all his affairs, both "in the house and in the field." Consequently everything was left, "in Joseph's hand." Joseph moreover had developed into a specially fine specimen of young manhood.
Then came a time of fierce and prolonged testing, and we see how great is the contrast with Judah's action in the previous chapter. There the sin was committed at once and was hardly recognized as sin. Here the testing met him day after day, and he was only preserved by his fear of God and recognition of the great wickedness of the seduction laid before him. Whether young or old we do well, as we pass through this defiling world, to have continually in our hearts this question, "How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?" Had he complied he would have sinned against the woman, against Potiphar and against himself, but the controlling and saving thought was "against GOD."
By his steadfast refusal he enraged the woman, and she with cunning artifice concocted a story against him, which, believed by her husband, landed him into prison. But we are going to see in Joseph's history a striking exemplification of that word written by the Apostle Peter in his First Epistle, "If, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God'' (1 Peter 2: 20). He was abased for a moment, but only that he might be exalted in due time.
In the first place we notice that he was put into that particular prison "where the king's prisoners were bound." This proved to be a link in the chain of circumstances that connected him with ultimate triumph. Had it been another prison he would never have met the butler and baker who had offended the king.
Then, in the second place, the Lord was with him as much in the days and place of his adversity as He had been in the days of his comparative prosperity in Potiphar's mansion and estate. In result He showed mercy to him, which took the form of bringing him into the favour of the keeper of the prison, who evidently wielded autocratic power within his own limited sphere.
So, in the third place, we find everything in the prison "committed to Joseph's hand." The extraordinary statement is made that, "whatsoever they did there, he was the doer of it." The young man cast in as a prisoner becomes the super-efficient deputy of the jailer, and ends by controlling the whole place! We wonder if a situation approaching this has ever been seen in a prison since that day. The keeper was relieved of all work and anxiety. He doubtless took the salary, and Joseph did the work.
He had now tasted the bitterness of both pit and prison. Taken both together they foreshadow Christ going down into death as a result of the malice of man. But there the power of His hand was felt. The skill of Joseph's hand in the house of Potiphar may remind us of the mighty hand of Christ in His matchless life. But in the closing verses of our chapter we see typified the power of His mighty hand in the dark domain of death.
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