You will find an introduction and outline of Genesis, here.
A prayer of John Calvin to use before you read:
May the Lord grant that we may engage in the heavenly contemplation of the mysteries of God’s heavenly wisdom with ever increasing devotion to God’s glory and our edification. Amen.
IV. The Story of Joseph 37:1-50:26: Now we begin reading the story of Joseph. Even though the story appears to have come from a variety of sources, it can and should be read as a novella or short story. Notice as you read the way this story is told, compared to the earlier stories in Genesis. What is similar and what is different. Also pay attention to how God is presented in this story compared to earlier stories. In the story of Joseph, we begin to make the transition from stories of individuals to the story of a nation. Watch how the authors accomplish this. Most of the same themes from earlier stories carry on, family, promise, deception, conflict.
A. 37:1-36 Joseph’s Decent from Canaan to Egypt: Notice how these verses begin with a reference to Jacob and then immediately begin the story of Joseph. Why do you think that is? Remember that Jacob and Israel are the same person. Dreams in ancient times were thought to be prophetic and of divine origin. Notice how the second dream is grander than the first, now celestial bodies bow down, which include his parents. Why do you think Jacob sends Joseph after his brothers? Is Joseph to report back to Jacob or does Jacob hope the brothers can be reconciled? The word translated as well being or welfare is shalom.
Verses 18-28 are confusing and may reflect more than one tradition. Joseph is sold to and sold by both Ishmaelites and Midianites. Both Ruben and Judah act to save Joseph’s life. Jacob is deceived by his sons. Even in his absence, Joseph divides the family as Jacob refuses to be comforted.
B. 38:1-30 Judah and Tamar: The story of Joseph is interrupted by this story. What purpose does placing the story of Judah and Tamar here serve? ( Commentators have a variety of answers to that question.) The levirate practice was that the children of the second son and first son’s wife were regarded as heirs of the first (deceased) son. Of course if there is a son who is considered the deceased heir, Onan would not receive Er’s inheritance. When Judah sends Tamar back to her father’s house, her future is placed in jeopardy. She is a childless widow cut off from her husband’s family. Tamar, realizing Judah has deceived her, plans a risky deception herself. Notice the text does not condemn Tamar for her actions.The birth of twins, echoes the birth of twins Esau and Jacob. Once again the second born carries on the promised line. Perez is an ancestor of David. Tamar appears again in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus. Perez appears in both Matthew’s and Luke’s genealogies of Jesus.
Normally actions such as Tamar’s would be condemned, but in verse 26 her actions are called righteous. What does this story say about authority,social customs, justice, and social responsibility?
C. 39:1-41:57 Joseph in Egypt: Now we return to the story of Joseph. Once again a gentile is blessed by the presence of a descendant of Abraham.
39:1-23 Joseph, Potiphar and Potiphar’s Wife: Contrast the actions of Potiphar’s wife and Joseph with Tamar and Judah. Pay particular attention to issues of power and authority. Notice again how garments are again part of the story. Just as he gained Potiphar’s trust, now in prison, Joseph gains the jailer’s trust. How does the text interpret this phenomena? How is God presented in this story? Is this different than earlier stories of Joseph?
40:1-23: Joseph and Dreams: Joseph’s earlier dreams result in his slavery. Now his ability to interpret dreams work toward his release. Notice that Joseph says the interpretation of dreams belongs to God, not that the dreams themselves do. In ancient Egypt there were professional dream interpreters and there was even a book that guided proper dream interpretation.
Read More About It.
The following are several good general reference works to aid your reading of the Torah.
Anderson, Bernhard W., Katheryn Pfister Darr, “Understanding the Old Testament” Abridged fourth Edition. (Upper Saddle River,New Jersey: Prentice Hall) 1998.
Keck, Leander E., ed. “The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 1. (Nashville”Abingdon Press) 1994.
Mays, James L. ed. “HarperCollins Bible Commentary” (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco) 2000.
Metzger, Bruce M., Roland E. Murphy, eds. “The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books” (New York: Oxford University Press) 1994.
Plaut, W. Gunther, ed. “The Torah: A Modern Commentary” (New York: Union of American Hebrew Congregations) 1981.