Monday, February 24, 2020

In The Beginning. Day 147, Joseph Falsely Accused

Joseph fled from the advances of Potiphar's wife, but because she was grasping his cloak at the time, she still has it in her possession. She's going to use this item of clothing to back up her story that Joseph tried to sexually assault her. She can't deal with his rejection, but instead of realizing she was in the wrong for her harassment of him, she wants something bad to happen to him to salve her wounded pride.

"When she saw that he had left his cloak in her hand and had run out of the house, she called her household servants, 'Look,' she said to them, 'this Hebrew has been brought to us to make sport of us! He came in here to sleep with me, but I screamed. When he heard me scream for help, he left his cloak beside me and ran from the house.'" (Genesis 39:13-15) These are the servants who were missing when Joseph showed up for work. These are the servants she had sent on errands so she could have complete privacy in which to entice Joseph to bed. I think up until now she believed the only thing holding him back was the fear of discovery and that if no one was around he would give in. But Joseph wasn't saying no to her out of fear of being caught. He was saying no because it was the right thing to say.

We are never told the name of Potiphar's wife and I'm glad. She doesn't deserve her name being written in the pages of the holy Scriptures. She's about to do a terrible thing to an innocent man. "She kept his cloak beside her until his master came home. Then she told him this story: 'That Hebrew slave you brought us came to me to make sport of me. But as soon as I screamed for help, he left his cloak beside me and ran out of the house.'" (Genesis 39:16-18) She never seemed racist before. She wasn't, not while she lusted for the young handsome Joseph as he went about his work. But now she keeps referring to him as "that Hebrew" in a derogatory way as if her husband should have known better than to bring a "Hebrew" into the house. She's saying something like, "Well, you've gone and done it now! You brought a foreigner in among us---into our very home---where my virtue was placed in jeopardy. He sure had you fooled, enough that you trusted him to be in the house with me every day. But all that time he was having lustful thoughts about me. At last he has acted upon them! He tried to rape me! He would have been successful if I hadn't screamed as loudly as I could. That scared him enough to fear someone would come running to my aid, so he fled the house."

If this woman did any screaming at all, it was probably to call after Joseph to come back. But her husband can do nothing but take her story at face value since she's holding Joseph's cloak and Joseph has indeed fled and is not at his post. I think Potiphar feels a lot of guilt. He really believes he has been duped by Joseph. All this time Potiphar was going about his daily business without a care in the world because he trusted Joseph to look after his estate just as he himself would look after it. But Potiphar's wife's words remind him of something: Joseph is a slave. He's been treated like an estate manager and he's been given status and authority, but when you come right down to it he's the legal property of Potiphar. Potiphar can handle the matter however he wants. "When his master heard the story his wife told him, saying, 'This is how your slave treated me,' he burned with anger. Joseph's master took him and put him in prison, the place where the king's prisoners were confined." (Genesis 39:19-20a)

A man in those times in Egypt had the right to have a slave put to death for doing what Joseph is accused of doing, but I don't think Potiphar can bring himself to do such a thing. His relationship with Joseph has been more like that of a manager and employee rather than master and slave. I think he considered Joseph a friend, in a way. He doesn't have Joseph executed but instead he consigns Joseph to what must have been life in prison, for we will see that Joseph languishes in prison for quite a long time. That's because he's not incarcerated while awaiting a trial; he immediately begins serving a life sentence. There were no trials held for slaves accused of wrongdoing. Slaves were sentenced on the word of their masters and at the discretion of their masters.

Joseph is having a very rough life through no fault of his own. First he was sold into slavery by his brothers because of their jealousy that he was their father's favorite son. Since becoming a slave he's performed his work honestly and honorably, but still he's ended up in prison for a crime he didn't commit. If we go through life believing we are going to be patted on the back for doing the right thing, we are going to be disappointed. We're living in a fallen world filled with sin. Bad things are going to happen here to the godly and to the ungodly both. There will be people who don't like us simply because we stand up for what's right, and that's why Joseph finds himself in prison. He stood up for what was right and Potiphar's wife hated him for it.

This world may not be fair to us, and unbelievers may behave toward us in ungodly ways. Believers will let us down too, from time to time, whether they mean to or not. But God's eyes don't miss a thing and He knows when we've been treated unfairly. He knows when we're persecuted for standing firm on godly principles. Somehow, someway, whether it's in this life or in the judgment afterwards, God is going to make all things right and fair. So far Joseph has been betrayed and abandoned by almost everyone he's ever trusted in his life, but God is still with him. "But while Joseph was there in the prison, the Lord was with him; He showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden. So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there. The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph's care, because the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did." (Genesis 39:20b-23)

God is going to do something far beyond Joseph's wildest dreams, but a period of time must pass while God prepares him for a great destiny no one could ever have predicted. Who would believe an imprisoned foreign slave would rise to become second-in-command to Pharaoh himself? No one. No one but God. It's for this very purpose that God allowed Joseph's brothers to sell him as a slave. It's for this very purpose that God allowed Potiphar's wife to bring false charges against him. Joseph is in a prison dungeon, but it's exactly where he needs to be, for he will perform a service in the prison that later allows him to gain an audience with the king. The king, unknowingly fulfilling the will of God, will place Joseph where God always intended he should be.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

In The Beginning. Day 146, Joseph And Potiphar's Wife

A long time passed while we studied many of the adult years of Judah's life. We don't know how many years went by in Chapter 38 but it was long enough for Judah to move away from home, marry and raise three sons, become widowed, and father a set of twins by Tamar. During all those years his brother Joseph has been a slave in Egypt. Today the author lets us in on what has been happening in Joseph's life. We are going back in time to find out what occurred during the first decade or so of Joseph's life as a slave.

"Now Joseph had been taken down to Egypt. Potiphar, an Egyptian who was one of Pharaoh's officials, the captain of the guard, bought him from the Ishmaelites and had taken him there. The Lord was with Joseph so that he prospered, and he lived in the house of his Egyptian master. When his master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord gave him success in everything he did, Joseph found favor in his eyes and became his attendant." (Genesis 39:1-4a) It looks like Joseph has landed a pretty cushy job even though he's not a free man. Potiphar sees that there's something special about Joseph. He can tell that Joseph has the blessing of the Lord upon his life. We are reminded of how the Lord caused Jacob to profit while he was living in Harran managing his father-in-law's estate. His father-in-law realized it was an advantage to him to have Jacob around. In Jacob's case, the Lord's blessing had more to do with the covenant He made with Abraham than with Jacob's personal godliness at the time. But in Joseph's case I think the Lord's blessing is due to Joseph's faithfulness to Him. After all, Joseph is not the son of Jacob who will inherit the covenant God made with Abraham, but the Lord is looking after him and sustaining him and causing everything he does to be successful.

Potiphar most likely worships the pantheon of Egyptian gods. Still, I think he believes in the existence of the God whom Joseph worships. Potiphar has sen that when Joseph prays to the Lord for help and guidance, the Lord directs his life. Potiphar has had time to observe the way the Lord attends to Joseph's prayers and he has had time to observe the godly living of Joseph. He knows he can safely leave the management of his estate in Joseph's hands without fear of theft or laziness or wastefulness. Joseph will follow his conscience in everything he does. "Potiphar put him in charge of his household, and he entrusted to his care everything he owned. From the time he put him in charge of his household and of all that he owned, the Lord blessed the household of the Egyptian because of Joseph. The blessing of the Lord was upon everything Potiphar had, both in the house and in the field. So Potiphar left everything he had in Joseph's care; with Joseph in charge, he did not concern himself with anything except the food he ate." (Genesis 39:4b-6a)

Joseph is not a free man but he's "blooming where he's planted", as the saying goes. He's living out his faith every day in the household of this Egyptian official. He's setting an example of godly living for Potiphar and for everyone employed (or owned) by Potiphar. There's nothing Joseph can do about the loss of his freedom but he has accepted that at the current time it's the will of the Lord for him to be in these circumstances. Instead of throwing himself a pity party he's actively living for the Lord. He's shining like a light in a dark land, for in Egypt knees are bowed to every god but the Lord.

Things appear to be going quite well for him for a number of years after he arrives in Egypt. He was only seventeen when he was sold into slavery, and the Bible doesn't tell us how long he's been there, but he's become grown up enough to catch the eye of Potiphar's wife. "Now Joseph was well-built and handsome, and after a while his master's wife took notice of Joseph and said, 'Come to bed with me!'" (Genesis 39:6b-7)

Scholars estimate he's likely been in the household for ten years or more to have risen to such a position of responsibility, and if so then he's at least twenty-seven years old here in Chapter 39. He's old enough to be a husband and father if he were free to make his own decisions about his life. He may be a slave, but he's second in power only to his master, and at his appearance everyone on the property stands at attention. Power can be very attractive. Godliness can also be very attractive. There is a certain type of person who finds it irresistible when someone stands firmly on their principles and loves the Lord and lives for Him. How many women have thrown themselves at church pastors? How many men have tried to seduce godly women? There is something even unbelievers find appealing about those who confidently know who they are in the Lord and who remain firmly committed to Him. Potiphar's wife finds Joseph's confidence and faith very attractive. She also finds him attractive in his personal appearance. He's a strong, tall, muscular, good-looking man in the prime of his life. He's in the house every day and Potiphar's wife is a wealthy woman who enjoys a life of leisure that allows her to stay home as much as she pleases. While she lounges idly about the house, she watches Joseph and has lustful thoughts about him. Eventually she makes him an offer she believes he will be happy to accept.

"But he refused. 'With me in charge,' he told her, 'my master does not concern himself with anything in the house; everything he owns he has entrusted to my care. No one is greater in this house than I am. My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?' And though she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her or even be with her." (Genesis 39:8-10) Joseph could have committed adultery with this woman and gotten away with it. He's so powerful in the household that he could demand and enforce the silence of the other slaves. In fact, he could have conducted this affair without anyone suspecting anything at all. He could just order them to work in another part of the house or outside on the grounds while he has an afternoon interlude with the master's wife.

It's important for us to note that the Bible never tells us that he wasn't tempted by her. I believe he was tempted. I believe he felt the pull of this sin. In his reply to her, he doesn't refuse her advances because he's uninterested in them. He doesn't say, "Sorry, but you're not my type." Joseph is an unmarried young man with unmet physical desires. Potiphar's wife was probably young too. Women married quite young in those times and it was common then, as it is now, for wealthy men to marry young and beautiful trophy wives. Potiphar was wealthy and of high political and social standing. His wife very well may have looked like a supermodel. Joseph never says, "I don't think of you in that way, Mrs. Potiphar. You're a very plain looking lady and I don't find you attractive." No, what he says is, "I could never sin against my God by doing this thing and I would never break the trust of your husband." Day after day she makes her whispered advances to him or gives him those "come hither" eyes. The Bible tells us that he refused "to even be with her" so we know he's careful never to be in a room alone with her. If he does feel tempted, as I suspect, then he's setting an awesome example for anyone who feels attraction toward someone who does not belong to them. Being alone with a person like that is setting oneself up for failure.

I'll tell a brief story that illustrates how smart Joseph is to ensure he's never alone with Potiphar's wife. One of my co-workers had a friend who was conducting an affair with a married man. After their first encounter she vowed never to sleep with him again but she didn't keep her vow because she set herself up for failure. She set herself up for failure the next time she heard from him by agreeing to meet him in a hotel room, but she said she prayed all the way there, saying, "Lord, please help me not to have sex with this married man." The battle was already pretty much lost by the time she was on her way to meet him. It would be a lot easier to stay strong if she stayed away from him, but instead she was going to be all alone with him in a hotel room. When she told my co-worker this story, my co-worker told her that it was a little too late to be praying for strength not to continue the affair while on her way to continue the affair. Joseph is smart enough not to set himself up for failure like this. He makes sure someone else is always around when he's in the household of the woman who is trying to seduce him.

Potiphar's wife realizes he's making sure there's always at least one servant around him whenever he's in the house. Before he arrives for work one day, she orders all the servants to do some type of work away from the house. The Bible doesn't specifically say she did this, but I highly suspect it because of what happens next. "One day he went into the house to attend to his duties, and none of the household servants was inside. She caught him by his cloak and said, 'Come to bed with me!' But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house." (Genesis 39:11-12)

I feel like giving Joseph a standing ovation when he flees her presence. Sometimes the only way to avoid sin is to run from it as fast as you can. There's no shame in running away if you have to. He does exactly the right thing. This woman has her hands on him. She's looking up at him with her beautifully made-up eyes and promising all sorts of illicit and mysterious pleasures. She's offering him something that he (a healthy man in the prime of his life) is lacking---a physical relationship with a woman. I think if he hadn't run he might have given in. And we shouldn't think any less of him if that's the case. Sometimes there's a tendency to want to think of Bible heroes as "less human" than the rest of us, but Joseph was an ordinary young man who had the same physical urges as any other ordinary young man. He could have done this thing and no one would have been the wiser. But he would have known. And God would have known. Not wanting to live with a guilty conscience and not wanting to sin against the God who loves him and has been good to him, he does the only thing he can do to remove this temptation. He runs from it.

Have you ever heard the saying, "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned"? That saying could have been made up about Potiphar's wife. She's not going to take rejection very well at all. I'm willing to bet no man has ever rejected her in her life. She may have seduced other servants in the past and it never occurred to her that Joseph would say no. Her pride is so hurt and her fury is so great that in tomorrow's study that she makes false accusations against him.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

In The Beginning. Day 145, Judah And Tamar, Part Three

Judah finds out that his widowed daughter-in-law is pregnant and he wants the harshest penalty passed on her. Or at least that's how he feels until he finds out he's the daddy.

"About three months later Judah was told, 'Your daughter-in-law Tamar is guilty of prostitution, and as a result she is now pregnant.'" (Genesis 38:24a) The first three months of pregnancy is when miscarriage is most likely to occur, so I assume Tamar didn't announce her pregnancy until she was three months along and felt fairly sure the pregnancy would continue to term. Most women in our own times still don't publicly announce their pregnancies until after completing the third month. It's too heartbreaking to happily announce an early pregnancy and then have something go wrong and have to share the sad news with so many people.

Judah is enraged when he hears Tamar has been sexually immoral. "Judah said, 'Bring her out and have her burned to death!'" (Genesis 38:24b) If we looked up the word "hypocrite" in the dictionary right now we might find Judah's picture beside of it. He has no right to pass judgment on anyone's sexual immorality because he has been sexually immoral himself. He thought nothing of hiring a prostitute on his way up to the sheep shearing festival, yet he has the gall to want Tamar condemned to death for having sold sexual favors. At this time he doesn't yet know that Tamar and the veiled prostitute he hired are the same person.

Another way he's being a hypocrite is because he's incensed on behalf of his son, Shelah, whom he promised to Tamar in marriage. But Judah never had any intention of actually ever setting a wedding date for the two of them. He's behaving like Tamar has been unfaithful to his son because engagement in those days was almost as binding as marriage. Being unfaithful to one's betrothed was considered as serious as committing adultery. Judah only promised his son to Tamar to keep her from marrying again. If she marries again then the shares of his estate which had belonged to his dead sons Er and Onan (Tamar's previous husbands) will go to her new husband. But if she remains a widow I believe that upon her death these shares would revert to Judah's son Shelah if Tamar is engaged to Shelah when she dies. We can see why a genuine engagement and marriage would have been beneficial to everyone. An heir of Tamar and Shelah would inherit the entire estate as a whole someday. None of the property would pass outside the family if these two united in marriage and had a son together. But this arrangement is unfair to Tamar because Judah doesn't want the marriage to ever take place. She can't fall in love with and marry anyone else. She can't have any children. Her life is stuck in the same old rut day after day after day while she languishes in her father's household waiting to marry this younger man. The arrangement isn't fair to Shelah either. He can't marry or father any children, at least not while Tamar is alive.

A dramatic scene now ensues. Judah puts on all the airs of a father-in-law whose dignity has been wounded and rounds up officials and witnesses to march over to Tamar's house to have her burned at the stake. I picture men building a blazing bonfire in the front yard. I hear a judge reading the charges aloud at the top of his voice so everyone assembled in the yard and everyone huddled behind the locked door of the house can hear him. I see Tamar handing off some articles to a household servant and quickly telling him exactly what to say in a message to her father-in-law. Then the door is kicked in and men grab hold of Tamar and drag her out of the house.

This is the moment Tamar has been waiting for. For three long months she's held her peace, knowing this day would come, knowing that when it came she would not be the person who is actually on trial. Judah is the one on trial here. In front of all these witnesses, Judah's sins against this woman will be made plain for all to see. "As she was being brought out, she sent a message to her father-in-law. 'I am pregnant by the man who owns these,' she said. And she added, 'See if you recognize whose seal and cord and staff these are.'" (Genesis 38:25) Imagine his shock when he's given the message and handed the personal items he knows are his. These are the items he gave the "prostitute" to hold until he could send back the goat he promised her in payment for his services. This moment is just like those on some of the popular TV shows where an envelope containing DNA results is opened and an unhappy man is told, "You are the father!"

The whole scene comes to a screeching halt. I bet you could have heard a pin drop while everyone present stares at the shocked Judah who is standing there holding his own seal, cord, and staff. To his credit, he immediately accepts the blame for the current circumstances. Right here in front of all these witnesses, he openly admits his sin and repents of it. "Judah recognized them and said, 'She is more righteous than I, since I wouldn't give her to my son Shelah.'" (Genesis 38:26a) He's saying, "Let her go and lay all the blame for any sins she's committed at my feet. I'm the one who drove her to such desperate measures. I deprived her of the blessings of a husband and a son and a secure future by not keeping my promise to her. As far as I'm concerned, she is to be considered innocent and she must have her dignity restored to her in everyone's eyes. Everything that has happened is my fault. I have sinned against her and I was wrong and I'm sorry. She is to be considered my wife now and this child is to be considered my legitimate son."

We know she is legally considered his wife now because this next verse indicates she and Judah had the right to an ongoing physical relationship with each other and that such a relationship would not have been considered sinful. "And he did not sleep with her again." (Genesis 38:26b) He could have lived with her as husband and wife, sexually speaking, but he didn't. This is a marriage but in name only. It's not a love match. Judah doesn't expect her to perform the physical duties of a wife and it's likely she prefers not to. Their one sexual union was a combination of loneliness and sexual frustration on Judah's part after the death of his wife and revenge on Tamar's part. Judah has given her his name and the protected status of a legally married woman. He has given legitimacy to the child they conceived together. He is going to provide for them as a husband and father should. He and Tamar don't end up falling in love and making a real home together, but I think he treated her courteously and respectfully from then on.

One more surprise is revealed when Tamar gives birth. She's having twins. "When the time came for her to give birth, there were twin boys in her womb. As she was giving birth, one of them put out his hand; so the midwife took a scarlet thread and tied it on his wrist and said, 'This one came out first.' But when he drew back his hand, his brother came out, and she said, 'So this is how you have broken out!' And he was named Perez. Then his brother, who had the scarlet thread on his hand, came out. And he was named Zerah." (Genesis 38:27-30) The name "Perez" means "breaking out" and the name "Zerah" means "scarlet".

We can't help but be reminded of the birth of the twins Jacob and Esau. The two of them struggled together in the womb and Jacob came out behind Esau grasping Esau's heel. This was symbolic that Jacob would be the one to inherit the birthright, the blessings of the firstborn, and the promises of the Abrahamic covenant. Tamar's sons also struggle in the womb for preeminence. It appears at first that Zerah will be the firstborn, but Perez is stronger and he arrives ahead of his brother. This is because Perez is going to be the twin who is the ancestor of the Lord Jesus Christ, according to the genealogies given in Matthew's gospel account and in Luke's gospel account. Perez is the inheritor of the covenant promises God made to Abraham. It is his line that will lead to the birth of the promised Messiah.

Neither Judah nor Tamar has behaved very righteously at all in Chapter 38. Judah, because of his lack of spiritual insight, felt superstitious toward Tamar as if she somehow caused the death of his two eldest sons. He failed to understand that their deaths were a result of their own sinful ways of living. In his fear of Tamar he made a promise to her he didn't intend to keep. Judah has been a liar, a promise-breaker, a hypocrite, a person lacking in compassion, and a sexually immoral individual. Tamar was wronged, to be sure, and we don't want to overlook that. But she allowed her anger and bitterness to fester and took charge of the situation in a sinful manner. I think it's quite possible she could have brought a legal case against Judah for his failure to allow the marriage between her and his son Shelah to take place. She might have won in court and Judah would have had to follow through. But instead she put on a deception and was sexually immoral in order to get what she was owed.

This story illustrates the depths to which a person can sink in sin, but it also illustrates the lengths to which the Lord will go to redeem persons from sin. Out of this scandalous and sinful situation comes an ancestor of the Redeemer. This story shines a spotlight on God's awesome grace and His ability to bring triumph out of tragedy and to turn ugliness into beauty. The Bible is filled with people who made mistakes. The family tree of the Messiah has a lot of bad apples hanging on it. And this ought to make us shout for joy because we've been some bad apples ourselves, haven't we? We've made mistakes. We've wasted opportunities. We've chosen wrong paths. There have been times when, to anyone on the outside looking in, we appeared unredeemable. We looked like a lost cause. Right now the family line from Abraham down to Perez looks like a lost cause, doesn't it? Everyone in this family has made terrible choices and appears unredeemable and unusable by God. And maybe that would have been true if God had washed His hands of them. But God is a promise keeper. God is merciful. He doesn't look at us and see who we are now or who we used to be. He sees what we can be if we allow Him to be Lord of our lives. He sees our potential. Right now it doesn't look like the family of Jacob has any potential. Maybe they don't, on their own. But with God all things are possible.

Friday, February 21, 2020

In The Beginning. Day 144, Judah And Tamar, Part Two

In yesterday's study we learned that Judah had three sons. Er, his firstborn, married a woman named Tamar but died not long after, leaving no children. Judah instructed his second born son, Onan, to marry the widow in the custom known as "levirate marriage". This would keep the property (Er's share in the family estate) that Tamar inherited from Er in the family because it would pass down to any son she had with Onan. Onan married her but refused to have a child with her. He too died soon after the marriage.

Judah has one son left, Shelah, who is not yet a legal adult. Judah would like to keep the shares of the property of his sons Er and Onan in the family, but at the same time he's afraid to give another son to Tamar in marriage. The Bible specifically told us that Er and Onan died young because they were so wicked, and I think Judah probably knows they weren't fine upstanding men, but at the same time he's superstitious about Tamar as if she caused the deaths of his two sons. In his heart he can't make a firm decision about what he should do, so he instructs Tamar to return to her parents' house and remain single until Shelah is of age. This puts Tamar in an awkward position. She ends up sitting around for years waiting for Judah to fulfill his promise. Meanwhile she's growing older and is missing opportunities for marriage and childbearing. If she's still unmarried when her fertile years run out, as she grows older she'll have no sons to take care of her. As the years pass she realizes Judah has no intention of keeping his promise. Her bitterness toward him grows. In our passage today she decides to take action.

We know years have passed while Tamar waits for Judah to keep his promise because the Bible says, "After a long time Judah's wife, the daughter of Shua, died." (Genesis 38:12a) A long time goes by. Judah's household has no woman to run it now that his wife has passed but still he doesn't send for Tamar to marry his son after the days of mourning are completed. Instead he decides to get out of the house for a while by attending a sheep shearing, which was a festive event. "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." (Genesis 38:12b)

Sheep shearing took place in the spring when the earth was blossoming and when the long dark days of winter were over. It was treated as a celebration. As soon as all the work was done (which could take a number of days depending on the size of the flocks) a feast would be held for several days and it was like an all-you-can-eat buffet with an open bar. There would be lots of eating, drinking, singing, and playing of instruments. The Bible tells us that Judah grieved for his wife. He loved her and he's been very sad. The sheep shearing festival sounds like something that will cheer him up and take his mind off his sorrow. He asks his best friend to go along with him and the two of them head off for several days of carefree fun. But when Judah goes to the festival instead of sending for Tamar, she realizes he never intends to. Now that the days of mourning for his wife are completed, and now that spring is bursting forth in all its beauty, it seems like the perfect time for Judah to arrange a wedding between Tamar and Shelah. Then Tamar could have taken over the running of the household and the supervision of the household servants. She could have provided a woman's touch in a house that now contains only two lonely single men, but Judah runs off to the festival instead and seems content to leave things as they are.

"When Tamar was told, 'Your father-in-law is on his way to Timnah to shear his sheep,' she took off her widow's clothes, covered herself with a veil to disguise herself, and then sat down at the entrance to Enaim, which is on the road to Timnah. For she saw that, though Shelah had now grown up, she had not been given to him as a wife." (Genesis 38:13-14) Sheep shearing was considered not only a time to party but a time to settle scores. Tamar is going to settle a score.

"When Judah saw her, he thought she was a prostitute, for she had covered her face. 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 38:15-16a) Women who were known as "shrine prostitutes" in the land of Canaan put veils over their faces when they were, shall we say, open for business. These women served fertility goddesses in that pagan culture and part of their service included having sexual relations with men in exchange for money. When a man saw a woman with a veiled face sitting by the roadside, he naturally assumed she was one of these ladies of the evening. In our day a prostitute might stand on a street corner dressed in skimpy clothes while calling out to men driving by, but in Judah's day all a prostitute had to do was veil her face and place herself by a roadside or city gate and men would automatically know she was available. When Judah sees a woman sitting by the roadside wearing a veil over her face, of course he assumes she's a prostitute. Judah is a man out on the town looking for a good time. He's recently widowed and he misses the physical companionship of a woman. When he sees the veiled lady he propositions her. What he's doing is sinful and immoral, of course, but I don't think he's bothered by that.

Tamar intended him to believe she's a prostitute. "'And what will you give me if I sleep with you?' she asked. 'I'll send a young goat from my flock,' he said. 'Will you give me something as a pledge until you send it?' she asked. He asked, 'What pledge shall I give you?' 'Your seal and its cord, and the staff in your hand,' she answered. So he gave them to her and slept with her, and she became pregnant by him. After she left, she took off her veil and put on her widow's clothes again." (Genesis 38:16b) Judah doesn't have the goat with him and any woman in the business of prostitution would want to ensure that he keeps his end of the bargain. There's nothing odd about Tamar asking for personal items of Judah's to hold as a guarantee that he will send the goat as payment for their sexual transaction. Tamar wants to become pregnant by him and she knows the only way she can prove the child is his is if she has these personal items which he temporarily gave a supposed prostitute to hold until he sent the goat back. There weren't any paternity tests in those days and having his seal and its cord along with his staff will be the positive paternity test Tamar needs. A wealthy man didn't travel anywhere without the seal he used to sign official documents. Possessing his seal would be like possessing his legal form of ID. When Tamar makes the announcement that Judah is the baby daddy, having his seal in her hand is the same as producing a printout of paternity test results with his name on them.

Judah keeps his word about the goat. He has to if he wants his items back, but he doesn't go in person. As far as he's concerned, his personal dealings with the prostitute are over. He sends his buddy Hirah to conclude the matter for him. "Meanwhile Judah sent the young goat by his friend the Adullamite in order to get his pledge back from the woman, but he did not find her. He asked the men who lived there, 'Where is the shrine prostitute who was beside the road at Enaim?' 'There hasn't been any shrine prostitute here,' they said." (Genesis 38:20-21) This scene amuses me. Hiram looks pretty foolish wandering up and down the roadway and around the city square leading a goat on a rope while searching for a veiled woman. Eventually he asks some men hanging around where the prostitute is. I can't help picturing those guys having a good laugh at his expense. No doubt they believe Hirah is the person who slept with the prostitute. They probably think he was too intoxicated at the time of the festival to recall where his transaction with the woman took place. They believe he's in the wrong location and say, "Man, are you crazy? How drunk were you? We haven't had any hookers here! Are you sure this thing even happened? Maybe you passed out and dreamed it." A lot of snickering and knee slapping probably ensued, to Hirah's embarrassment.

There's nothing Hirah can do but slink home and tell Judah he can't find the woman. "So he went back to Judah and said, 'I didn't find her. Besides, the men who lived there said, 'There hasn't been any shrine prostitute here.' Then Judah said, 'Let her keep what she has, or we will become a laughingstock. After all, I did send her the young goat, but you didn't find her.'" (Genesis 38:22-23) It's in Judah's best interests to speak no more of the matter. He doesn't want word to get out that he slept with a prostitute and can't find her to pay her. That will make him look foolish and give his neighbors something to gossip about. He certainly doesn't want anyone to think he slept with a prostitute and refused to pay her. He says, "Let's let this thing go. She can sell my personal items for cash if she wants to. It's not like I didn't try to pay her with the goat. You know and I know I tried to pay her. The men you spoke to in town know I sent the goat as payment. It's not my fault she isn't there anymore."

Judah thinks this is the end of the thing. But it's only the beginning.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

In The Beginning. Day 143, Judah And Tamar, Part One

Jacob thinks Joseph is dead, but while he grieves deeply for his lost son, the Bible tells us, "Meanwhile, the Midianites sold Joseph in Egypt to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh's officials, the captain of the guard." (Genesis 37:36) We will join Joseph in Egypt soon, but in the meantime the Bible has things to tell us about Jacob's son Judah. Judah was perfectly fine with the idea of killing Joseph until he realized he and his brothers could profit by selling him into slavery instead. In today's passage Judah branches out on his own, away from the family, and may be using his share of the ill-gotten money to make his start.

While reading about the life and the mistakes of Judah, we must keep in mind that he is the son of Jacob through whose descendants the Messiah will come. I think Satan thought the ancestor of the Messiah would be Joseph. Joseph was Jacob's favorite son and almost certainly his intended heir. It would have made sense to the devil that the one who was the heir would also inherit the covenant promises that the Lord made to Abraham. Joseph, as we will soon see, was the most godly son of the bunch even though as a seventeen-year-old boy his faith was immature and his character was still impulsive and prideful. But because Joseph had a heart for the Lord, Satan believed he might cut off the line of the Messiah if he could get Joseph killed by his jealous brothers. When that failed, the devil probably thought sending him into lifelong slavery in Egypt would be enough to keep him from fulfilling his destiny as the forefather of the Redeemer. But the Lord intended that the ancestor of the Messiah and one who inherited the blessings of the covenant promised to Abraham would be a son of Jacob and his first wife Leah. That son is Judah. Right now Judah doesn't seem like a likely candidate to be found in the genealogy of Jesus Christ, but as we read about his sins and poor choices we should be grateful to a God who has the power to change and redeem any life. Judah hasn't been very admirable so far and we aren't going to feel very impressed by him in our current chapter either. But the Lord is still working on him.

"At that time, Judah left his brothers and went down to stay with a man of Adullam named Hirah." (Genesis 38:1) Why does Judah leave his father's household? Well, "at that time" Jacob is mourning for Joseph and refusing to be comforted. No one can do anything for him, although they try their best as we were told in yesterday's passage. I like to think Judah's conscience is bothering him. At the very least, I think his father's household has become a place where Judah can no longer relax and enjoy being at home. He decides it's time to head out and make his own way in the world.

In Adullam he falls in love with a pagan woman. "There Judah met the daughter of a Canaanite man named Shua. He married her and made love to her; she became pregnant and gave birth to a son, who was named Er. She conceived again and gave birth to a son and named him Onan. She gave birth to still another son and named him Shelah. It was at Kezib that she gave birth to him." (Genesis 38:2-5)

Judah intermarries with the idolatrous Canaanites and lives and works among these heathens. Yet a son he has with a Canaanite woman will become an ancestor of God's own Son. The Lord Jesus made Himself like us in every way possible, including having some very rascally characters in His lineage. He didn't come to the earth as a power-wielding king, although He could have and had the right to do so. He came humbly as a child into a poor family from a backwoods hick town in Galilee, with a whole bunch of liars, thieves, murderers, and ne'er-do-wells in His family tree. I don't know about you, but I wouldn't have to go very far back in my family tree to find some bad apples hanging on its branches, and neither did the Lord Jesus. It fills me with wonder that the holy and perfect Son of God didn't consider Himself too good to be born into a family full of sinners. On the contrary, His entire purpose in coming into this world was to "seek and to save the lost". (Luke 19:10) He came here specifically to interact with man just as he was and to make man into something better.

Judah will father a son who will be the ancestor of the Messiah, but not through his first wife the daughter of Shua. The Bible doesn't even tell us the name of the mother of Judah's first three sons, and that's a clue to us that she's not in the genealogy of Christ. Another woman will be, and Judah's union with her will result in a child conceived in deception and immorality, yet this child's name is on a leaf of the family tree of our Lord, which proves to us that He is able to redeem even our worst mistakes. The woman who appears in the family tree of the Lord is a woman who is first married to one of Judah's sons. "Judah got a wife for Er, his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. But Er, Judah's firstborn, was wicked in the Lord's sight; so the Lord put him to death." (Genesis 38:6-7) We don't know what Er's sins were, but they were so heinous that the Lord took him out of this life at a young age before he fathered any children with his new wife.

Now we see Judah advising his next eldest son to enter into what was called a "levirate marriage" with Tamar. It would not have been called this in Hebrew, for "levir" is a Latin word meaning "brother-in-law". We will find more references to this type of marriage in other places in the Old Testament, but its purpose was to keep the property and the wealth of the dead brother in the family. If his widow remarried outside of the family then everything she inherited from her dead husband would pass on to the new husband and then in time it would pass on down to children she had with the new husband. If a man died with a son and heir, there were no worries about anything passing out of the family. But if a man died without an heir, the custom was that one of his brothers would marry the widow. The property would then pass on down to the children he had with his brother's widow. If the man had other wives, the property could not be inherited by children he had with them. It could only go to the children he had with his brother's widow. Not only did this carry on his brother's name and his brother's estate, but it provided a living for the brother's widow. She would have sons who were property owners who could take care of her in her old age.

"Then Judah said to Onan, 'Sleep with your brother's wife and fulfill your duty to her as a brother-in-law to raise up offspring for your brother.'" (Genesis 38:8) I don't believe Judah is telling his son to have relations with Tamar outside of marriage. That's not how the process worked. She would have become a legal wife of Onan, though perhaps not his first or only wife.

Onan goes through the motions of being obedient to his father and respectful of his dead brother, but he ensures that no children will result from his union with Tamar. "But Onan knew that the child would not be his; so whenever he slept with his brother's wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from providing offspring for his brother. What he did was wicked in the Lord's sight; so the Lord put him to death also." (Genesis 38:9-10) Onan uses a form of birth control because he doesn't want to have a son with Tamar named after his brother and he doesn't want his brother's property to go to a son he fathers with this woman. I assume Onan either despised his older brother so much that he wants his name to die out or else he was too prideful to father a son who would appear in the genealogical records as the son of Er, not as the son of Onan. He would never be able to take the credit for being the child's father, for his name would be entirely left out of that particular branch of the family tree. Even though Er did not literally father the child, he would be listed as the father on the birth certificate, so to speak.

Some people have used what Onan does in Genesis 38 to condemn the use of birth control. His sin is not in using birth control. The Lord doesn't take him out of the world by death because Onan uses birth control. If he and Tamar agreed together that they would use birth control, that would be their own private business as a married couple. The Lord doesn't put people to death for deciding not to have children. Onan's sin is in not fulfilling his vows or his duty. Tamar is not in agreement about never having an heir to inherit her husband's property and to take care of her in her old age. I think what Onan does is a symptom of his heart being cold and hard toward everyone. He's rebellious toward his father even though outwardly he pretends to obey him. He's rebellious toward the customs of the day. He doesn't care anything about his dead brother or about what happens to anything that belonged to him. He doesn't care whether the name of his dead brother dies out. He doesn't care what happens to his brother's widow, who is the innocent party in this whole mess. Due to his complete lack of compassion for those around him, and due to his rebellious spirit which evidently would never have changed, the Lord takes him out of this life.

Judah has one more son but he's not old enough to marry yet. He promises his son to Tamar when he comes of age, but until that time he instructs Tamar to move back in with her parents. We must assume Tamar is still a very young woman, possibly much younger than her two previous husbands, and that there would not have been enough of an age difference between her and Shelah to matter. "Judah then said to his daughter-in-law Tamar, 'Live as a widow in your father's household until my son Shelah grows up.' For he thought, 'He may die too, just like his brothers.' So Tamar went to live in her father's household." (Genesis 38:11)

Judah knows something is wrong with his sons, I think, but he superstitiously blames their deaths on their marriage to Tamar. It's not her fault they were wicked men. It's Judah's fault for marrying into a pagan culture and for not raising his sons in the reverence of the Lord. But he's afraid to arrange a marriage between Shelah and Tamar, either because he feels any man married to Tamar is cursed or because he knows Shelah isn't going to turn out any better than his older brothers did. If Shelah marries Tamar and does the same thing Onan did, Judah fears the Lord will let Shelah die. Judah promises Shelah to Tamar but appears to have no intention of following through.

His deception puts Tamar in a difficult position and the Lord doesn't like it when widows are put into difficult positions. The Bible has a lot to say about how sinful it is not to care for widows and orphans. Judah doesn't care about the widow of his sons Er and Onan but has merely come up with a way to put her off and get her out of his household. In order to make her think he really intends to let Shelah be her husband, he instructs her to "live as a widow" and not marry again until Shelah is old enough to marry her. But without a husband, if her father dies she has no one to provide for her. Without a husband, she can have no sons to provide for her. She might end up a beggar on the street corner someday and Judah couldn't care less. She is being treated very poorly and will decide she isn't going to put up with it. She's going to take matters into her own hands and deceive a deceiver. She's going to get what is owed to her by this family and she's going to do it by using something that has brought down many a carnally-minded man: sex appeal.

Join us tomorrow as this story becomes even more sordid and complicated and when Judah fathers an ancestor of the Messiah by Tamar who passes herself off as a prostitute. It's stories like these that prove to us that our Redeemer is able to redeem anything from our past. Many of the characters in the Bible have shameful pasts, but when they finally allow the Lord into their hearts, He takes even their worst failures and turns them around.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

In The Beginning. Day 142, Joseph Sold Into Slavery

When we closed yesterday, the older brothers of Joseph saw him coming to check on them and they hatched a plot to kill him. Reuben is going to balk at using such extreme measures to rid themselves of their father's favorite son and intended heir. Judah is going to agree with him about not resorting to murder, but not because he feels compassion for his seventeen-year-old brother. Judah will come up with a plan that allows them to be rid of Joseph and that will provide them with monetary gain at the same time. Jacob will be deceived by these men who are going to convince him Joseph is dead.

Joseph is approaching the group as they talk among themselves. "'Here comes that dreamer!' they said to each other. 'Come now, let's kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him. Then we'll see what comes of his dreams.'" (Genesis 37:19-20) We don't know which brothers make this statement. It might have been all of them with the exception of Reuben and Judah, two of the sons of Leah. The other two sons of Leah, Simeon and Levi, have already murdered men before and may think little of doing it again. We were told earlier in our chapter that the sons of Jacob by the maids Bilhah and Zilpah hated Joseph, so I have little doubt these men are part of the conspiracy to murder. Benjamin, Joseph's younger full brother, I am certain is not with them but is at home. Joseph is the age where young men were tasked with management of flocks and herds, but Benjamin is several years younger and would only have been expected to perform simple chores at home. Some scholars estimate that Benjamin was probably no more than ten years old here in Chapter 37, but there's no way to know his age for certain.

Reuben is horrified at the idea of killing his half brother and he tries to talk the men down. "When Reuben heard this, he tried to rescue him from their hands. 'Let's not take his life,' he said. 'Let's not shed any blood. Throw him into the cistern here in the wilderness, but don't lay a hand on him.' Reuben said this to rescue him from them and take him back to their father." (Genesis 37:21-22) Reuben hasn't been a very upstanding man so far in the Bible. He's been rebellious and disrespectful. He's looted and pillaged. He's committed adultery. Based on his actions so far, we might have thought there's nothing he wouldn't do, but he won't kill Joseph and he won't allow anyone else to kill Joseph if he can help it. Why didn't he simply stand against these men and rescue Joseph from their hands right now? Some of the commentators whose works I consulted are very critical of Reuben for not doing this, but I tend to think his own life would have been in danger if he'd outright refused to go along with them and if he'd said, "I'm taking Joseph back to our father right now and I'm going to tell him what you almost did!" These guys are a violent bunch. If they're perfectly willing to kill one brother, no doubt they wouldn't mind killing a second brother at the same time. Reuben is outnumbered. He'd have to fight nine tough, physically fit men to rescue Joseph. Even if Joseph joined in the fight with him, it would still be two against nine and the two of them would easily be overpowered.

Reuben's brothers have no idea he intends to sneak back and pull Joseph out of the cistern. Throwing a man into a cistern and leaving him there was a death sentence, but less of a hands-on method of murder than if they beat or stoned him to death or stabbed him. They like Reuben's idea and decide to take him up on it. They will seem even more convincing when they protest their innocence about Joseph's disappearance if their father sees none of his blood on their garments. "So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe---the ornate robe he was wearing---and they took him and threw him into the cistern. The cistern was empty; there was no water in it." (Genesis 37:23-24) The brothers take away the robe that symbolizes the disproportionate love their father feels for the eldest son of Rachel. They must have been so sick of seeing this seventeen-year-old boy strutting around in it as if he is their master. Every morning at the breakfast table they must have been sickened by the sight of the heir-apparent wearing his special robe while their father made a bigger deal of Joseph than of anyone else. They can't stand the thought that when he dies in the cistern and the cistern becomes his grave, he will forever be interred while adorned in this robe.

There's no water in the cistern, so he doesn't drown while his brothers sit down nearby and unpack their lunches. Imagine how hard-hearted they must have been to be able to enjoy a meal to the sound of his pitiful cries! I think the sound of his pleas for help must have been music to the ears of all of them but Reuben. I feel some sympathy for Reuben right now because even though he intends to come back later and pull Joseph out of the hole, there's nothing he can do at the moment to ease the boy's fear and torment. I don't believe he's able to bear the sound of his brother's cries and that he walks away from the rest of the group. I don't think he sits down and has a picnic lunch with them, and the reason I believe this is we will see that he's not present a few minutes later when the men come up with a different idea to rid themselves of Joseph. "As they sat down to eat their meal, they looked up and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead. Their camels were loaded with spices, balm and myrrh, and they were on their way to take them down to Egypt." (Genesis 37:25)

This is when a lightbulb comes on over Judah's head. I can't help picturing him pausing with his full mouth hanging open when it occurs to him that he and the others can not only rid themselves of Joseph forever today but that they can also make a handsome profit at the same time. "Judah said to his brothers, 'What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? Come, let's sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him; after all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood.'" (Genesis 37:26-27) He cloaks his greed with feigned compassion for the boy. He says, "If we let Joseph die here, we'll be rid of him but we really won't be better off financially. Not until our father's death anyway. But if we sell him to these traders we won't be guilty of his death. He'll be alive somewhere else, far away from us, and we'll have the price of a slave to divide among ourselves. Besides, he is our brother even though we despise him. Surely selling him is a better option than bearing the guilt of having killed a man who shares our blood."

"So when the Midianite merchants came by, his brothers pulled Joseph up out of the cistern and sold him for twenty shekels of silver to the Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt. When Reuben returned to the cistern and saw that Joseph was not there, he tore his clothes. He went back to his brothers and said, 'The boy isn't there! Where can I turn now?'" (Genesis 37:29-30) A period of time passes in which Reuben is not with the rest of the group. The men have gone back to tending the flocks and when they're far enough away he sneaks back to the cistern intending to pull Joseph out but finds him missing. He's so grief-stricken that he tears his robes in an age-old gesture of anguish. He rushes to find the others and in his distress his intention to save Joseph becomes clear to them, but the deed is already done and they don't lay a hand on him for being upset with them. Reuben, as the firstborn of Jacob, feels responsible for what's happened today. He feels guilty for being too afraid of his gang of unscrupulous brothers to try to fight them all to save Joseph. He wonders what more he could and should have done. He thinks he ought to have been able to maintain control over this whole mess but he didn't know how and now he's overwhelmed with the knowledge of what has happened to Joseph. How can he face his father? What will he say to him? What excuse can he give for the fate of Jacob's favorite son? Reuben has already disgraced himself by announcing his candidacy for head of the family by adulterously sleeping with one of his father's wives. Obviously,he was wrong about his abilities and he's not capable of leading the family, as the events of our chapter today prove. But his father has already dismissed him as the primary heir and if Jacob realizes Reuben failed to save Joseph then Reuben risks being disowned entirely and excommunicated from the family.

Knowing Reuben would prefer not to have to account to their father for what's happened today, the others draw him into the deception they plan to perpetrate upon Jacob. If Reuben will go along with this plan he will never have to admit any guilt to their father. If Jacob thinks Joseph was attacked and killed by a wild animal on his way to check on the brothers, it will never occur to him to cast a suspicious eye on any of them. "Then they got Joseph's robe, slaughtered a goat and dipped the robe in the blood. They took the ornate robe back to their father and said, 'We found this. Examine it to see whether it is your son's robe.'" (Genesis 37:31-32) I bet they're congratulating themselves on tearing the robe off Joseph in the first place. Having him in his plain tunic helped them pass him off as a slave to the Ishmaelites and now the robe dipped in blood helps them pass him off as dead. I have a feeling Reuben is completely silent during this sad gathering with their father. In my mind I picture him standing in the shadows in a corner, not willing to come close enough to look his father in his eyes. Although he knows Joseph is alive, depending on what type of work he was expected to do as a slave, it could mean a life of backbreaking hard labor and an early death. I think Reuben is struggling with this knowledge, with his inability to keep this from happening, and with having to watch his father cry tears of grief over a son he believes is dead.

"He recognized it and said, 'It is my son's robe! Some ferocious animal has devoured him. Joseph has surely been torn to pieces.' Then Jacob tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and mourned for his son many days. All his sons and daughters came to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. 'No,' he said, 'I will continue to mourn until I join my son in the grave.' So his father wept for him." (Genesis 37:33-35) Jacob believes in the eternal life of the soul. He thinks Joseph is dead and that his remains are eaten and scattered. There's no gravesite beside his son in which he can be buried. When he says he's going to join Joseph some day, he's talking about being reunited with him after death. He says, "I will mourn my son until the day I see him again in heaven. I will never be happy again until then." King David said a similar thing about a son he lost. While his baby boy was sick, he fasted and prayed day and night for him to be healed, but the child passed on. David made this statement of faith about seeing his son again: "I will go to him, but he will not return to me." (2 Samuel 12:23) David couldn't revive his son from the dead. His baby boy's soul had gone on to be with the Lord. But all was not lost because, although he would not see his son again in this life, he would be reunited with him again after death in the presence of the Lord.

The narrative of Genesis is going to move back and forth for a period of time to keep us updated on Joseph's life in Egypt and on his family's life in Canaan. Joseph's family believes they will never see him again. Jacob and his wives and his son Benjamin and his daughters think Joseph is dead. The other ten know he is alive but believe he will be a slave in Egypt for the remainder of his life and that they will never lay eyes on him again. But all of these events are part of God's plan. Sometimes the things that happen to us in this world aren't pleasant. Sometimes those unpleasant things are a result of our own errors but other times they are part of God's plan for us. Joseph's family will see him again, and when they do, the one they tried to kill will save their lives. The one they hated so much will have forgiven them, will have recognized that the Lord used his circumstances to accomplish something of enormous importance and eternal significance, and will say to them: "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good." (Genesis 50:20)

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

In The Beginning. Day 141, Joseph's Brothers Plot To Kill Him

Joseph's brothers already hated him because he's their father's favorite and appears to be Jacob's intended primary heir. Now Joseph is having dreams in which his family bows down to him. This is the final straw for his brothers and they conspire to kill him.

"Now his brothers had gone to graze their father's flocks near Shechem, and Israel said to Joseph, 'As you know, your brothers are grazing the flocks near Shechem. Come, I am going to send you to them.' 'Very well,' he said. So he said to him, Go and see if all is well with your brothers and with the flocks, and bring word back to me.' Then he sent him off from the Valley of Hebron." (Genesis 37:12-14a) Shechem is the city where Simeon and Levi slaughtered every grown man, yet Joseph's older brothers are grazing their father's sheep near there. The Bible told us that the Lord put fear in the hearts of the peoples surrounding Shechem so they would not attack Jacob's family to avenge the men of Shechem. The Lord showed Jacob's family more mercy than they deserved, but we could say the same of the mercy He's shown to us. I've made some bad choices in my life. Some of those choices were deliberately sinful and others were just stupid decisions that I wouldn't have made if I'd spent enough time considering my options, but the Lord prevented me from receiving the full penalties and consequences that should have naturally followed. There were some consequences here and there of course, but the Lord in His mercy prevented disaster from following my bad decisions. That's what the Lord did for the family of Jacob. Dysfunctional though they may be, they recognize Him as the one true God whereas the men of Shechem were heathen idolaters. The Lord protected Jacob's family because they have not denied His name, unlike the men of Shechem who refused to serve Him.

Joseph is an obedient son. He knows he's the favorite son and I'm sure this made him somewhat spoiled and selfish in his youth, but he immediately agrees to his father's wishes. We can already see that this young man is someone the Lord can use. A person who respects and honors his parents is a person the Lord can use, for that person already knows how to graciously accept and obey instructions. "When Joseph arrived at Shechem, a man found him wandering around the fields and asked him, 'What are you looking for?' He replied, 'I'm looking for my brothers. Can you tell me where they are grazing their flocks?' 'They have moved on from here, the man answered. 'I heard them say, 'Let's go to Dothan.' So Joseph went after his brothers and found them near Dothan." (Genesis 37:14b-17)

I tried and failed to find any commentaries that assigned any importance as to why Moses mentioned the man who gave Joseph directions. Maybe it's just me, but I feel like there's something going on here. There was really no need for Moses to provide this seemingly inconsequential detail, yet he records the conversation between Joseph and this unnamed man. I don't know if this is another Old Testament appearance of the pre-incarnate Christ, or whether this is an angel, or whether this is an ordinary man who (by design of the Lord) happened to overhear where Joseph's brothers were going. But if Joseph had not met this person, he might have given up on finding his brothers and returned home. Or if he had wandered about for a day or two until he found them, it might be that the anger of his brothers wouldn't have been burning so hotly toward him. The events that need to be set in motion require Joseph to meet up with his brothers in a particular place on a particular day. I really believe his meeting the man in the field is a divine appointment, whether the man is someone special or just an ordinary guy. The Lord has plans for Joseph's life and those plans depend on him finding his brothers, upon his brothers plotting to kill him, and upon his brothers coming up with an alternate solution that sends Joseph to another country where he will fulfill the Lord's will for his life.

Joseph doesn't dread meeting up with his brothers. He seems oblivious to their hatred of him, just as he seemed oblivious to their indignation when he told them his dreams. I think he might not be a very perceptive person when it comes to picking up on body language and tones of voice. Or maybe he's been made so self-centered by his father's favoritism that he believes everyone loves him. I get this, in a way, because I was the baby of my family and a big deal was always made of me by everyone in the family. So everywhere I went, I expected people to just naturally like me. It wasn't that I thought I was something special and that everyone was obligated to like me; it was just that I wasn't used to being disliked or disciplined or held accountable for anything. I like everybody and just assumed everybody I ever met would like me too. When I started school and realized that not everybody likes everybody, it was a hard and confusing lesson but it was a lesson that needed to be learned. Joseph is about to learn a hard lesson from his older brothers. "But they saw him in the distance, and before he reached them, they plotted to kill him." (Genesis 37:18)

Murder had to already be in their hearts for them to come up with such a heinous idea so quickly. Between the time they spot Joseph coming and the time he reaches them, they've come up with a plan to take his life. They didn't spend much time thinking about it. They didn't have to. I think most or all of them had already thought about how much better life would be if Joseph had never been born or if something happened to him. We need to keep in mind that Joseph's full younger brother, Benjamin, is not among the conspirators. He's still a child and is at home. The ones who plot to kill Joseph are his older brothers, the sons of Leah and Bilhah and Zilpah.

Two of Joseph's brothers have already committed murder. The rest of them looted and pillaged the town of Shechem following the slaughter of all the men there. Their hearts were already hard before they committed these horrible sins at Shechem and, since they haven't repented of their actions there but instead justified their actions to their father in a previous chapter, their hearts are even harder now. They thought nothing of slaughtering an entire town full of men with whom they had worked and socialized. They now think nothing of killing Joseph who is their own flesh and blood.

Thankfully, one of them will shrink back from following through with the plot. Reuben, Jacob's oldest son who rebelliously lost his place as primary heir, will be the voice of reason in the midst of madness. Join us tomorrow when the brothers agree to a compromise in which they do not kill him but still find a way to permanently rid themselves of him---or so they think.