#7: January 24, 2008

Today’s reading was Genesis 35-37.

Joseph is introduced in the last chapters of Genesis. Joseph’s story is intriguing. There’s so much to take out of it.

In Genesis 37, we may judge Joseph’s brothers harshly for selling him into captivity, and lying to Jacob that he had been taken by wild animals. Perhaps we may grant Reuben a reprieve for seeking to spare Joseph’s life, but whether we interpret his motivations as that of gaining favour from his father is another issue. We may grant Judah a partial pardon, for acknowledging that Joseph is his brother, and his refrain from killing him. But what about Joseph?

Joseph was proud. I think it’s obvious that Joseph understood his dreams. His brothers clearly did, and hated him for flaunting his position over them. It clearly wasn’t helped either by him being Jacob’s favourite child, a testament of his multi-coloured robe. (Benjamin had not been born and Rachel was still alive at this point I believe.)

But just because Joseph would be superior over the lives of his family did not mean that he had to flaunt it. It was true but it was disrespectful. The best evidence of this was Jacob’s reaction. He was clearly outraged at Joseph’s lack of respect, but he kept Joseph’s words in his mind.

We could speculate. Perhaps this whole story wouldn’t have taken place if Joseph had not been as proud. God would surely have had His ways of getting Joseph to Egypt. But of course, as is the pattern we’ve constantly observed, God uses human folly for His good purposes.

It’s the same today. Especially for young people. We think we’re better than others in some way, are more talented in some skill, and seek to flaunt it, to show off. It’s sheer pride. What’s worse is that sometimes we think we’re better just because God gives us a special gift, or we seem to have a special position in church, or something along those lines. It’s not the mark of a true Christian. And it clearly has its consequences. Joseph’s brothers’ reactions were not irrational or even unexpected. And if people were to react in the same way today, I would not be the least bit surprised.

So let’s be humble people, no matter how skilful, or talented, or smart, or privileged, or ‘high-up’ we are.

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2 responses to “#7: January 24, 2008

  1. What do you think, please, of Obadiah Shoher’s interpretation of the story? (here: samsonblinded.org/blog/genesis-37.htm ) He takes the text literally to prove that the brothers played a practical joke on Yosef rather than intended to murder him or sell him into slavery. His argument seems fairly strong to me, but I’d like to hear other opinions.

  2. Joel Lee Weng Yew

    Oh. I got a comment. I didn’t notice. Anyways, I’m not sure when this question was posted, but I’ll reply to it nonetheless.

    Well first of all, I won’t claim to know Jewish law thoroughly. But upon reading the argument, I believe it is rather weak and erroneous.

    Firstly, I would sort out the story. The brothers see Joseph coming from afar. Where they see him, I cannot say, but I assume from Dothan. As much as I read the text, I just can’t seem to understand how the interpretation of letting wild animals kill Joseph while they move further and further away comes from.

    Then they definitely do plot to kill Joseph. Surely we can take that part of the text literally. Until Reuben intervenes and convinces them otherwise. Why? To restore Joseph to Jacob. His motives are not fully revealed but with some speculation, I could possibly guess it was to curry favour with his father.

    Instead they throw him into a pit. Why? I’m not sure. Reuben might have suggested it because he knew his brothers wanted revenge, and while he had convinced them not to shed blood, he had definitely not convinced them to not get their revenge. And so needing a way to spare Joseph until he could hatch a plan to rescue him, he decided to play for some time. But irrespective, Joseph does end up in a pit. Not because of a practical joke, but because it’s an alternative to killing him outrightly.

    This is where the story becomes a bit more unclear. This stems mostly from the seemingly interchangeability of the Midianites and Ishmaelites. But contrary to what is said in the link, they are NOT the same people. I can only assume that the Midianite traders were part of the Ishmaelite caravan. It also stems from a slightly ambiguous use of ‘they’ as Shoher points out, although I don’t subscribe to his take on this either.

    Anyways from several readings, I take it to play out as follows. The brothers sat down to eat, probably at a distance, and notice the Ishmaelite caravan. Then Judah decides on a way to get rid of Joseph – by selling him into slavery. Reuben is sent to get Joseph.

    However, a group of Midianite traders beat him to Joseph, and sell him to the Ishmaelites before the brothers could. The brothers, discovering that Joseph is gone, hatch a plan to deceive Jacob about their role in the events, by dipping Joseph’s robe in blood and presenting it to their father.

    So, having sort out that story, I believe that the text in no way can be interpreted as Joseph’s brother’s having played a practical joke gone wrong. There are two points of importance in regard to this:

    1) They clearly planned to kill him, until Reuben intervened.

    2) They clearly planned to sell him into slavery, until they discovered Joseph was missing.

    Either way, they were going to get rid of Joseph, by their hand, or otherwise.

    There are further inconsistencies in the argument. Judah was not a virtuous man. You can’t take a future event and say a person was like that in the past. A historical analogy would be to consider Nelson Mandela. Just because he was a man of peace in his latter years doesn’t discount the fact that he was an armed rebel in his early years.

    Also, the Law was most definitely not given until the time of Moses.

    And finally, I think the nail in the coffin lies in Genesis 42:11 and Genesis 50:20. Feel free to read the context of the verses. I certainly won’t want to manipulate them to sound out my argument. But they clearly point out the guilt of the brothers. Not guilt from a practical joke. But guilt from mistreatment. Guilt from their plot to get rid of Joseph despite his pleas.

    And similarly, I don’t think Joseph saw it as a practical joke gone wrong. He clearly feared for his life. And when his brothers came up to Egypt the second time, he tested them by capturing Benjamin. The brothers passed the test. With Joseph, they had left him seemingly abandoned. With Benjamin, Judah went so far as to offer himself as a substitute. In Genesis 50, as you might have read, Joseph clearly points out that his brothers intended to harm him.

    I’m not sure about you, but I’m pretty convinced that there isn’t an inkling of a practical joke being played here. It was a clear cut plot to dispose of Joseph.

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