Genesis—The Beginnings (concluded)

Jason L. Kortering is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Grandville, Michigan.

In our outline of the book of Genesis, we have yet to complete the last two “generations.”

10. The generations of Esau (Gen. 36:1-37:1). Esau’s name is given as “Edom.” He took his three wives and five sons which are mentioned by name and his daughters with all his substance and moved to Mount Seir because there was not enough room to dwell in the land alongside Jacob (Gen. 36:1-8). His generations are then listed by sons and dukes (Gen. 36:9-30, 40-44). The kings that reigned in Edom are listed (Gen. 36:31-39). Jacob dwelt as a stranger in the land of Canaan (Gen. 37:1).

11. The generations of Jacob (Gen. 37:2-50:26). Joseph is mentioned first because the subsequent historyfocuses upon his involvement in the family of Jacob. At seventeen years of age, he brought the evil report of his brothers to Jacob. Jacob loved Joseph more than the others and gave him the coat of many colors. Enmity developed between Joseph and his brothers (Gen. 37:2-4). The dreams of Joseph are recorded, of the sheaves and sun, moon, and stars, both indicating Joseph’s exalted position (Gen. 37:5-11). While he was bringing food to his brothers at Shechem, they plotted to kill him. Reuben intervened and they threw Joseph into a pit. In Reuben’s absence, they sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites for 20 pieces of silver. The brothers dipped Joseph’s coat in the blood of a kid and presented it to their father. He grieved in his apparent death (Gen. 37:12-35). Joseph was sold to Potiphar, officer of Pharaoh of Egypt (Gen. 37:36). An indication is given of the sad spiritual state in the family of Jacob by the adultery of Judah with his own daughter-in-law, Tamar. Two of Judah’s sons, Er and Onan, were slain by the Lord for their sins. Judah promised that his youngest son Shelah would be given to the widowed Tamar. He failed to do this; and after his own wife died he visited a harlot in Tin-math. This “harlot” was Tamar, and she conceived twins, Pharez and Zarah. Judah’s sin was exposed (Gen. 38:1-30). Joseph became the overseer in Potiphar’s house and prospered greatly. Potiphar’s wife attempted to get Joseph to commit adultery with her. He resisted her advances and one time fled from her, leaving his garment behind. When Potiphar returned home, she unjustly accused Joseph of trying to rape her. In anger Potiphar put Joseph in prison (Gen. 39:1-23). While in prison Joseph was joined by the chief butler and baker of Egypt. One night they both had a dream. The butler dreamed of three grape vines, and he had a wine glass in his hand. Joseph was led by God to interpret this to mean that in three days he would be restored as butler before Pharaoh. The baker had a dream of three baskets on his head, which Joseph interpreted to be three days and he would be killed and his body fed to the birds. These events took place as Joseph had said (Gen. 40:1-23). After two years, Pharaoh had a dream and was directed by the butler to turn to Joseph for an interpretation. The seven cows in his dream represented seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine. Pharaoh appointed Joseph to oversee the gathering of corn during the seven years of plenty so that they would have food during the famine (Gen. 41:1-57). During the years of famine, Jacob and his family were also affected. Jacob decided to send his 10 sons to Egypt to buy corn. Benjamin, the youngest, remained home. Joseph immediately recognized them, but did not disclose his identity. To test them he accused them of being spies and put them in prison. Joseph challenged them to prove their sincerity by having one of them stay in prison and the rest return home and bring their youngest brother on the next trip. Simeon stayed in prison. They discovered their money in the bags of corn and reported these events to their father. Fear was upon all of them. Jacob resolved that Benjamin would not return with them: “Joseph is not, Simeon is not, will ye take Benjamin away?” (Gen. 42:1-38). The famine persisted, so at long last Jacob consented and Benjamin accompanied his brothers to Egypt. Judah accepted responsibility for his safety. They took double money in event they were accused of stealing it the first time. Joseph recognized them when they arrived and he received all his brothers, including Simeon who was released from prison, in his own house. Joseph was overcome with joy when he saw’ Benjamin, though he did not reveal his true identity to them as yet. At the evening meal, they sat separate from the Egyptians, arranged according to their age, and Benjamin received five times more food than the rest (Gen. 43:1-34). Once again the sacks were filled with corn and their money placed in the neck of the sack. Only this time Joseph ordered his servants to put his silver cup in the sack of Benjamin. As they departed for Canaan, Joseph ordered his servants to pursue after them. When they caught up with them they accused them of stealing Joseph’s silver cup. The brothers denied it and suggested that whoever had the cup should be taken as a slave into Egypt. Search indicated that it was in Benjamin’s sack. With grief they returned to Egypt, afraid of the future. Judah made an intercessory plea, offering himself in Benjamin’s place (Gen. 44:1-34). Joseph finally revealed himself to them and explained that God had a purpose for all of this. He had to be sold into Egypt to preserve life. Joseph instructed his brothers to return to Canaan and get Jacob and all the family and that they should come to live in Goshen, for there were yet five years of famine ahead. Pharaoh agreed and wagons were sent, laden with presents for Jacob. Upon hearing that Joseph was yet alive, Jacob resolved to go to Egypt (Gen. 45:1-28). As Jacob departed from Canaan for Egypt, the Lord met him in Beersheba. He told him not to fear to go to Egypt, that He would be with him there, and that, though he would die in Egypt, his family would return to Canaan. A total of seventy souls went to Egypt. When they arrived near Goshen, Joseph met them, and he and his father embraced. Jacob was at peace and he consented to meet Pharaoh (Gen. 46:1-34). Pharaoh agreed to have Jacob and his family stay in Goshen, since they were herdsmen and the land was fitted for this purpose. When Pharaoh asked Jacob his age, he replied, “130 years, few and evil have the days of the years of my life been.”

While Joseph administered the distribution of food, the people came to him and brought money, cattle, deeds of land in exchange for food. The government of Egypt claimed one fifth of the increase. Seed was provided and the harvest shared. Jacob was now 147 years old and strength failed. He made Joseph promise that when he died, Joseph would bury his body in Machpelah by his forefathers (Gen. 47:1-31). Joseph was informed that his father was near death. He went to see him and took his two sons Ephraim and Manasseh along. Jacob rejoiced in their presence. He blessed Joseph by pronouncing a blessing upon his two sons. Deliberately he crossed his hands and placed his right hand on Ephraim, the youngest. Joseph pointed out this error, but Jacob insisted that Ephraim would be the greater. In this way he gave the double portion to his beloved Joseph (Gen. 48:1-22). All the sons now gathered before Jacob for his final blessing: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Zebulun, Issachar, Dan, Gad, Asher, Naphtali, Joseph, Benjamin. These are pointed out to be the twelve tribes of Israel. Once again he charged them to bury his body in the cave of Machpelah. He then died majestically (Gen. 49:1-33). Joseph instructed the Egyptians to embalm the body of his father. After forty days of mourning, they obtained permission from Pharaoh to make the journey to Canaan for burial. A great procession went and the Canaanites were moved with this show of loyalty. They returned again to Egypt. Joseph’s brothers, realizing that their father was dead, made overtures of peace with Joseph, asking forgiveness for their past sins. He answered peacefully: ye thought evil against me, but God meant it for good. Having lived for 110 years, Joseph prepared to die. He took an oath of the children of Israel that they would carry his bones with them when they would leave for the promised land. After his death, his body was embalmed and put in a coffin (Gen. 50:1-26).

Questions for Reflection

1. Why is the method of interpreting Genesis important for a person’s understanding of the entire Bible? Prove that, from beginning to end, Genesis is historical.

2. Show from the whole of Scripture that the first five books of the Bible (Pentateuch) are called the law. Why is this so?

3. What is the relationship between creation and redemption? Is it true that a denial of creation leads to a denial of redemption? Explain.

4. Should the fact that we have no original manuscripts of Old Testament writings shake our faith concerning the fact that they are the Word of God?

5. Why is the Hebrew language so adapted to Old Testament writing of types and shadows?

6. We consider Genesis to be a book of beginnings. How does this relate to the central message of Christ? Consider in what way Christ is revealed in the book of Genesis.

7. Having reflected on the outline of the book of Genesis, we notice that most of it deals with the lives of a few patriarchs: Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph. Make a list of the spiritual lessons God teaches us through the lives of each of these men.

8. The flood event has a prominent place in Genesis. Demonstrate from the evidence in Genesis that God, from creation on, prepared the world for the flood (judgment). Why is this important for us to see when we face the judgment of fire at the end of the world (II Peter 3)? How was the gospel of Christ revealed through the flood?

9. Even though the main covenant line is through Noah, Shem, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the “generations” also include Ishmael’s and Esau’s generations. Why is this and what does this tell of the relationship between the true Israel of God and the apostate Israel?

10. In Galatians 4 Paul speaks of the Old Testament “Israel” as being children and that we are now adopted in Christ as mature. How does this distinction help explain our relationship to the patriarchs and what they mean to us from a spiritual point of view, especially the sins in their lives?