[Note: I had this written several days ago, but life and ministry took priority. Sorry for the delay]
Following the pattern earlier in Genesis, when a decendant of the promise is not in the line of promise, the genealogy is given for that person. And then the person is dismissed. So here in Gen. 36, Esau is mentioned, then a listing of his descendants. Some of the names will come back into the Biblical story as antagonists against the promised line.
Chapter 37 begins the section called the “Joseph Story” (Gen. 37-50). Interestingly, nothing negative is directly mentioned about Joseph. Yet, Joseph sets the stage for bad blood between his brothers and himself.
And Joseph brought back a bad report about them to their father. Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his sons, because he was the son of his old age; and he made him a varicolored tunic. His brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers; and so they hated him and could not speak to him in peace. (Gen. 37:2-4 emphasis added)
But in Gen. 37 Joseph’s recounting of the dreams and his responses to his brothers leaves somewhat a bad taste in their mouths. It’s not just that he has the dreams about his centrality with the brothers. It is almost as if Joseph is rubbing it into his brothers’ faces. Shamefully I find myself (my sinful self) identifying more with the brothers than with Joseph. Consider this, too.
Of course, the dreams are given to Joseph as a prophecy of what would happen in the future (see Gen. 44-50). We can’t know for sure, but Joseph probably saw the dreams as something to share, and that his brothers should be happy with him about them. That eventually happens, but here it is the cause of not only anger, but hate (37:8).
Ultimately that hatred leads to the brothers plotting against Joseph. One wants to kill him (37:20). Reuben “rescues” Joseph from that fate. He is eventually sold to the Midian traders who take him to Egypt to be sold there.
Notice, though, that some of the brothers’ hatred is directed to Jacob, their father (note Jacob’s rebuke of Joseph, 37:10). See the responses in 37:4, 11
His brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers; and so they hated him and could not speak to him in peace. (37:4)
His brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the saying in mind. (37:11)
In this latter passage, the brothers are following the pattern of Rachel, who was “jealous” of Leah, because Leah had children with Jacob, but Rachel did not (Gen. 30:1).
Judah, less than shining star
Judah enters the picture in chapter 37, as the one who advises the brothers to save Joseph’s life. But Judah’s solution is that Joseph be sold into slavery to the Midianites (37:25-28). Reuben is distraught when he discovers that Joseph is no longer in the pit. Reuben as the oldest carries the responsibility. The solution? Dip Joseph’s tunic (from Jacob) in animal blood and claim that Joseph had died.
When Jacob sees the tunic, his grief is so great that none of the brothers sisters were able to comfort him (Gen. 37:35).
In chapter 38, Judah takes center stage, but for less than honorable recognition. He sleeps with his daughter-in-law, Tamar. Her husband was Er, Judah’s first-born; but God took Er’s life because he was evil (38:7). Judah apparently thought that sleeping with a temple prostitute was okay.
Tamar becomes pregnant by Judah. When Judah learns that Tamar is pregnant, “as a harlot,” he initially wants her killed (“burned”) But then Judah learns the truth that he, Judah, is the culprit. And Tamar gives birth to twins.
Human failure, God’s work
It might be easy to sit in judgment of each person in the narrative of chapters 36-38. Who is “righteous”? Jacob, Reuben, the other brothers, Judah, Tamar? “There is none righteous, no, not one” (Psalm 14:1-3; Romans 3:10-12).
And yet… This is God’s plan, not any sinful individual. God uses Joseph’s journey into Egypt for His plan of delivering Jacob’s entire family. God uses Judah’s and Tamar’s sins to continue the line of promise through their son, Perez, through whom David is born, and eventually Jesus.
So what looks like sin, failure, dead-end lives, really opens the way for God to work continuously to achieve his perfect plan of salvation.
How often do we judge God’s work by what we see, hear, and do, not really understanding what God is doing? If we are honest, we like to be in the judgment seat, even of God Himself. But as these stories indicate, we fail even more when we take that judgment seat of God. And then through His Word we see something far greater than we can imagine.
The God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob has not forgotten His promises. He has not failed to achieve His purposes. He remains constant, never changing. And for that we give God thanks, today and every day.