Journeyman Project Dispatches from the Life of Patrick Fowler: Christianity Explored

5Feb/090

Joseph and His Brothers

I recently completed a study of Joseph’s life for my class on Genesis, and I’m absolutely astounded at the insight it has provided me. The portrayal of the characters of the book of Genesis are incredible…especially for someone who wrote this story over four thousand years ago.

In light of the way this study has changed my perspective on the first book of the Bible, I want to provide both my paper, and the cliff notes for any interested parties. Below you will find the general notes that relate to a study of Joseph’s actions toward his brothers in Egypt as recorded in Genesis 42-44.

Download my paper here: http://www.journeymanproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/02/joseph_and_his_brothers.docx

Read the Cliffnotes...

Joseph’s Character:

Joseph is portrayed throughout the book of Genesis with unshakable character. His tattletale nature in Genesis shows the depth of his conviction. His refusal to yield to the multiple temptations of Potiphar’s wife, coupled with the contrast of his brother, Judah, who falls to sexual temptation in the previous chapter, clearly emphasizes that his character does not change. Finally, the fact that God does not rename Joseph as he has chosen to rename Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob before him, shows that his life is not painted with dynamic character. All of this contributes to Joseph’s later actions: showing that when he is confronted with his brothers as ruler of Egypt, he does not proceed to act out of an attitude of vengeance. (After all, his first child is named to commemorate the fact that he has forgotten the past)

Joseph’s Actions:

Since Joseph has forgotten the past and would not allow vengeance to compromise his character, we must assume that when his brothers bow before him in Egypt and he remembers the dreams God gave to him, he begins to seek to reconcile himself with them. Since reconciliation requires some degree of trust, and his reasons for trust were dashed by his brother’s past actions, Joseph proceeds to lead his brothers through a series of events that will remind them of their past actions and test their character, in order to prove them trustworthy—able to maintain a relationship, should it be reestablished.

Joseph’s actions on their first visit directly parallel their treatment of him as a youth. (see the paper for a detailed treatment of these passages) His favor of Benjamin when they return to Egypt sets up an occasion for the brothers to be jealous of a brother who is favored in the same way that Joseph was. And his false accusation of Benjamin gives them the opportunity to abandon Benjamin in order to preserve their own lives.

As we see, the brothers come through Joseph’s events reminded of their treatment of Joseph, and unaffected by Joseph’s favor for Benjamin. They even return to Egypt together and pledge themselves in place of their brother, in hopes of saving him and caring for their father, who loves Benjamin. Their depth of character is what finally breaks Joseph down and causes him to cry excessively.

Important Sub-themes:

1. Judah’s character grows in these same chapters, as he is repents over his sexual sin and later is the one to pledge his life in place of Benjamin to Jacob and to Joseph.

2. Jacob shows through his extreme favor of Benjamin that he really has not changed much…which is why his God-given name, “Israel” does not stick the way Abraham’s new name does.

3. The theme of God’s sovereignty: We see in the story of Joseph that God is in control of the future. His declaration to place Joseph in authority over his brothers cannot be thwarted by jealous brothers, sinful women, or false accusations.

4. The theme of the favored brother: Throughout the book of Genesis, brothers are murderously angry with their siblings because of the favor of their fathers. Cain kills Abel, Esau seeks to kill Jacob, and Joseph’s brothers sell him into slavery.

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