The brothers return for more grain and take Benjamin with them. They bow before him before Joseph reveals his identity. Isaac is taken down to Egypt for a reunion with Joseph.

Day 16 (Jan. 16): Joseph’s brothers go to Egypt twice, brothers feast at the palace, silver cup trick, Judah pleads with Joseph, Joseph reveals identity

Wycliffe BibleTranslators of Russia

Welcome to Livin’ Light’s Bible-In-A-Year challenge of discovering God’s love for us and His purpose for our lives. Here is the format for this great adventure: The daily reading assignment is posted at 5 a.m. After each day’s reading, Leigh An Coplin, the blog host, shares observations and poses questions about difficult passages to Rob Fields, who studied Christian Education at Asbury Seminary and currently teaches Biology in the Orlando area. To start from the beginning, click on 365 Bible Readings and scroll down to Day 1. The reading schedule is taken from The One Year Chronological Bible NLT. 

Today’s Reading
Genesis 42-45:15
(1875 BC) Click here for a timeline of the whole Bible.

Questions & Observations

Q. (42:9): Joseph sees his dreams come true.  Are we to believe that this just happened, that Joseph can see into the future or that God made it happen?  In Gen. 45:5, Joseph said that it was God who sent him to Egypt to save his family.

A. My interpretation would be that God was telling Joseph in the vision that he would be the leader of his family, and that his power would rise even above his father Jacob (the sun in Joseph’s dream).  It was God that provided the vision to Joseph, but it was unclear exactly HOW this would come about.  God’s actions, especially providing Joseph with the interpretation of dreams that he could not have known otherwise, certainly points to God being involved in the process, but you can decide for yourself if God “made it happen” in the deterministic sense.

Q/O. (42:14): I see a common scenario thus far in the Bible of schemes for the purpose of assessing loyalty, honor and love.  1) In the Garden, the serpent tempts Eve and Adam to see if they are following God’s commands.  Adam and Eve fail and lose their cushy lifestyle.  2) God tests Abraham’s loyalty by asking him to sacrifice Isaac, his only son.  Abraham is rewarded with a blessing that he is the father of many and through his descendants, all nations will be blessed.  3) Jacob’s loyalty to God is tested when he is tricked by Laban and has to put up with Laban’s cruelty.  Jacob remains true to God, giving Him the credit for his fortune.  4) Jacob tests his father-in-law with his spotted goats and sheep. Laban tries to trick Jacob, but it backfires on him.  He fails the test. Jacob outwits him and prospers.  5) Joseph tests his brothers compassion by planting a silver cup in Benjamin’s bag and accusing him of stealing.  Joseph wins his brothers back.  There are obvious reasons for these tests of love and loyalty.  These tests seem necessary to set wrongs right or weed out the bad apples.  God has apparently administered some of these tests himself and allows others to test on his behalf.  Who tests us — God, the devil or both?

A. Let me start by saying that you have asked a complicated question that does not have a single concrete answer.  In James 1:13, James tells us that God does not tempt anyone to evil, at least directly.  But it is quite clear in the information you have assembled that God DOES allow testing of our hearts, in the examples that you cite, and even in the life of Jesus who was led by the Spirit into the wilderness specifically to BE TESTED by Satan (in Matthew 4).  So scripture does show that God is willing to put us to the test in order to prove (to ourselves and those around us) that our faith is genuine and not easily cast aside.  We will see more examples of the temptation God allows in Job (our next reading) and Exodus.

O. (42:21): Joseph’s brothers feeling that they are suffering the consequences of mistreating their brother reminds me of “an eye for an eye …” Exodus 21:24.

O. (42:32): This verse shows the class inferiority between the Egyptians and Joseph’s brothers.  It’s interesting whom God chooses to carry out his work, not the most famous or rich, but more often, the humble.

Q. (43:37): Jacob’s sons from Leah are not his favored sons.  We know that this troubles the brothers.  But, yet, here they change their attitude and promise to protect the one known surviving favored son.  Can you give us some insight on why they changed?

A. I think that they are changed men, but their resolve to protect Benjamin comes down to their love for their father.  The story seems to imply that the brothers feel that if they return to Jacob without Benjamin, Jacob will die of a broken heart, having lost both of the sons he cares most about.  It would appear that, besides Reuben who obviously thought the whole idea was a bad one, the other brothers came to regret their decision, and they probably DID assume that Joseph was dead- in that regard they told the truth as they understood it.

Q. Also, we talked in an earlier day’s readings about how Joseph was sold as a slave because of his bragging about his dreams.  Potiphar noticed God’s presence in Joseph, so when was his turning point to follow God?

A. It appears being sold into slavery was Joseph’s turning point as well.  While the text does not state it, it appears that slavery humbles him and helps him to focus on God.  Since he is a slave, Joseph is “stuck” in his service to Potiphar (and later the jailer), but rather than be bitter about his downfall, Joseph trusts that God will restore him.

Q. (44:15) Was Joseph a prophet?

A. In the sense of being able to see the future?  Sort of.  Don’t forget, the story told us that the only vision that was actually Joseph’s was the one of his family bowing down to him.  The rest of the visions and dreams have been from other people (the baker, cupbearer, and Pharaoh).  So I would be hard pressed to declare Joseph a prophet.  In the particular verse in question, it almost appears that Joseph is just using bluster to intimidate his brothers.  He can’t really see how things are in the future, he’s just bragging to them.

The other thing that is worth mentioning is our understanding of the word “prophet”.  The word has a very particular meaning to Jewish readership in particular.  The Prophets (capital P) were a particular group of individuals whose were give a particular vision by God: to call His people back into right relationship with Him.  Prophecy is not just about predicting the future, but rather about calling for people to repent and return to the ways they know to be true but are not following.  The “future” aspect of prophecy works in two ways: the prophet will warn about what happens if the people fail to repent (Jeremiah is the poster boy of this), and the other way prophecy works is in more the sense we are used to seeing.  A prophet such as Isaiah will talk about a day in the future when God will act in a particular way to restore things that have gone wrong (the result of the people failing to repent).  Basically, prophesies such as those about Jesus are about the way that God will restore things to rights, and not abandon His people.  So in this definition, I would say we can clearly see that Joseph is not a prophet in the sense that the Bible defines it.

Q.  (37:7) I’m backing up here to address something I forgot in Day 14.  I have never appreciated egoism.  Personally, I would have sided with the brothers.  This conflict seems to work in God’s favor in the long run, but he hasn’t purposely set it up like this, right?  He just knows how it will turn out.  I’m trying to accept that God doesn’t control people, he just knows what they are going to do.  In this story of Joseph and his brothers, it’s hard not to think God is making conflict for his own purposes, especially when Joseph said that God made it all happen to save their lives (45:5).

A. This is a pretty complicated story, and it can be hard to sort out exactly what God is doing with these men.  As I mentioned a couple of days ago, it is important to understand that without Joseph in Egypt, the family probably starves.  Now having said that, you are touching upon one of the most important issues that the Bible wrestles with: what role does God play in our destiny (if any)?  I can tell you honestly that its not going to get any easier, as both Exodus and Job both discuss this issue in complicated ways.  So buckle up, we’ve got a ways to go.

My response to the issue of God “setting up” the situation for the brothers is one where I would disagree.  The mindset that I bring to complicated scriptures like this one (and others such as the crucifixion, by the way) is to say God did not cause people to do evil things.  God did gift Joseph with visions of the future, but He did NOT make Joseph arrogant and desire to brag about his visions to his father and brothers.  God certainly did not make Joseph’s brothers desire to kill him, and then settle on selling him into slavery.  But God may have provided a way of protecting Joseph: He may have made it so that the caravan that Joseph was sold to pass at just the right moment to keep his brothers from killing him (since slavery is vastly preferable to being dead).  In the end, Joseph being in Egypt allows his brothers the chance to find forgiveness, after everyone (including Joseph) has been punished for their sins.  So basically, did God cause the situations in this story?  I would say no (though I think there would be some who would disagree with me).  But God did bring salvation to the family THROUGH the terrible actions of Joseph and his brothers.

This is foreshadowing of the cross itself and the sacrifice of Christ (Joseph being the Christ figure).  Did God make Judas betray, Caiaphas accuse, and Pilate condemn?  No.   The crucifixion was the darkest moment in human history: the one man in the entire world who was truly innocent of sin was tortured and brutally killed in our place.  Yet that moment was necessary for the restoration of God and man.  Out of that moment of darkness, God brought light three days later.  The darkness of the crucifixion changed everything.  God took the worst of who we are, our jealousy, our fear, and our willingness to kill, and used it to bring about the salvation of the entire world.  That is the true power of God’s grace: not to cause evil, but to bring goodness through it.

For further interest
More on biblical famine: https://theconversation.com/famine-in-the-bible-is-more-than-a-curse-it-is-a-signal-of-change-and-a-chance-for-a-new-beginning-152288

Shop: Jacob’s children — Joseph and his brothers — offer so many examples of sour states of mind that are timeless: we experience them today just like they did more than 3,500 years ago.  Help yourself get out of negative spiraling of your thoughts with Livin’ Lights “All Good Thoughts” shirt, the Good Life shirt or maybe if you are holding resentment, Forgive 490.

Tomorrow’s reading: Genesis 45:16-47:27

Jacob gave his favored son, Joseph, a robe of many colors, to which Jacob's other sons became embittered.

Day 14 (Jan. 14): Joseph’s dreams, brothers sell Joseph, Judah and Tamar, Judah’s descendants, Joseph revered by Potiphar, Potiphar’s retaliates

John Paul Stanley / YoPlace.com

Welcome to Livin’ Light’s Bible-In-A-Year challenge of discovering God’s love for us and His purpose for our lives. Here is the format for this great adventure: The daily reading assignment is posted at 5 a.m. After each day’s reading, Leigh An Coplin, the blog host, shares observations and poses questions about difficult passages to Rob Fields, who studied Christian Education at Asbury Seminary and currently teaches Biology in the Orlando area. To start from the beginning, click on 365 Bible Readings and scroll down to Day 1. The reading schedule is taken from The One Year Chronological Bible NLT. 

Today’s Reading
— Genesis 37-38
1 Chronicles 2:3-6
1 Chronicles 2:8
Genesis 39
(1898 BC) Click here for a timeline of the whole Bible.

Questions & Observations

Q. (37:5): If we are supposed to learn something from Joseph’s dream story, I would think that it is sometimes things happen for a reason and to trust in God.  But how do you know when God is influencing a situation?  This story does not tell us that God gave Joseph those dreams.  Also, being the favored son, I can totally understand why the brothers felt jealous of Joseph.  Then, to tell of his boastful dreams would have been the straw that broke the camel’s back.

A. You actually make a keen observation in noting the absence of God in Joseph’s dreams.  And while dreams will become important in his life, at this point, Joseph is an arrogant young man who is basically gloating about the dreams that he is having and how he will rule over his family (even his parents, something that would have been exceedingly rare in his day).  You get it exactly right: it is Joseph’s bragging (and his special robe or coat) that gets him in trouble with his jealous brothers and motivates them to sell him into slavery.  As we will explore throughout this story, God will use all of these events (including Joseph’s arrogance) to bring about the salvation of Jacob’s family, so you could make the argument that God is “planting the seeds” for the story that will unfold in the events we have read today.

Q. (38:1-30):  What is the significance to the Judah-and-Tamar story?  I see a few points: 1) God saw evil in a descendant of Abraham — Er — and took his life. 2) Widowers were well respected.  If their husband died, they were owed a caretaker from their deceased husband’s family. 3) Birth order is important in these times.  But, like we have learned, God doesn’t give it the importance that humans do. In the birth of Tamar and Judah’s twins, maybe God did this as a point:  It’s an argument to say who was born first.  One started to come out, but then the other somehow took over.  So, maybe God is saying they are equally important.

A. I agree with these suggestions you have made, but there is a larger picture at play.  Basically, Judah’s descendants will be among the most important Israelites in their history.  Ruth Chapter 4 actually tells us why the story of Tamar is important: Perez, the firstborn twin (though not Judah’s firstborn) is the ancestor of King David, and Perez’s line will give birth to numerous kings.  Note also, that Jesus (as a descendent of David) is ALSO of the line of Perez, and therefore Judah and Tamar.  Pretty amazing that God originates the world’s salvation through this troubling story of prostitution and incest.  We will see more examples of this type of story as we read on, notably in the stories of David and Solomon.

O. (39:3): Potiphar noticed that the Lord was with Joseph.  I wonder what made him say that?  Has anyone looked at someone and said to themselves, “They must believe in God?”

Q. (39: 7-10): Joseph had the willpower to deny Potiphar’s wife who was begging him for sex.  Joseph had the strength, yet so many men and women, even followers of God, give in to temptation.  Does the Bible tell us how to ignore temptation?

A. Part of the point of the story of Joseph is that he is held up as a perfect example of submission and faithfulness to God (at least AFTER being sold into slavery).  We will continue to see the ways that God will use Joseph and Joseph will prosper because he has faith in God when things get bad (and they are about to get really bad!)

When it comes to resisting temptation, the model of Joseph is a good one: Joseph is able to resist temptation because he trusts in God.  Having a powerful faith in God, and trusting that He knows what is best for us, compared to say the fall story in Genesis 3 when Adam and Eve became convinced that God was withholding something from them.  If we trust in the idea that God desires the best for us, then if we learn about the things that God (through the Bible) says are wrong or to be avoided, then we are more likely to avoid them.  Ultimately, it is important to understand that we will ALL fall into some sort of temptation eventually; it is in our nature.  This does not excuse our actions, but it does prevent us from thinking that God gives up on us when we screw up.  Quite the opposite: God desires to forgive and restore us to right relationship with Him.  So doing our best to avoid temptation is a good and desirable thing, but it is just as important for us to understand God’s desire to reconcile us to Himself through Christ.

For more insight: Dreams can be important! https://guideposts.org/angels-and-miracles/miracles/gods-grace/the-importance-of-dreams-in-the-bible/ 

Shop: Human emotions — like Joseph’s pride and his brothers’ jealousy — can get in the way of true joy. In Philippians 4:8, God gives us instruction to think about only good things. This shirt design is a great reminder for you and all of those around you to seek positivity: https://livinlight.org/product/all-good-thoughts/

Tomorrow’s reading: Genesis 40; Genesis 35:28-29; Genesis 41

Jacob wrestles with the Angel of the Lord all night. The Angel blesses him and names him Israel.

Day 12 (Jan. 12): Jacob returns home, faces Esau, wrestles God, becomes “Israel”, peace with Esau, revenge at Shechem, Rachel and Isaac die, 12 sons

Sweet Publishing / FreeBibleimages.org

Welcome to Livin’ Light’s Bible-In-A-Year challenge of discovering God’s love for us and His purpose for our lives. Here is the format for this great adventure: The daily reading assignment is posted at 5 a.m. After each day’s reading, Leigh An Coplin, the blog host, shares observations and poses questions about difficult passages to Rob Fields, who studied Christian Education at Asbury Seminary and currently teaches Biology in the Orlando area. To start from the beginning, click on 365 Bible Readings and scroll down to Day 1. The reading schedule is taken from The One Year Chronological Bible NLT. 

Today’s Reading
Genesis 32-35:27
(1906 BC) Click here for a timeline of the whole Bible.

Questions & Observations

Q. (32:22, 30): Why did God and Jacob wrestle?  How did he know the man was God?

A. The story tells us that Jacob has been struggling against God and men his entire life (his father, his brother, his uncle, etc.) but in the end he conquered each of them.  The timing of the event is crucial to recognize: Jacob is leaving his confrontations with Laban, and about to confront Esau, but it is at this moment that the person who Jacob has struggled most with appears: God Himself.  (There are some who think that Jacob is wresting with an angel of God, though as we established the angel would have basically been seen as the same thing as God Himself).  God wanted more than Jacob’s worship and acknowledgement, He wanted Jacob’s heart, and this is the way that He wins it.

While it is not directly stated that the man is God (or an angel), verses 28 and 30 point to this reality.  In case it is not directly stated by the text (some translations do), the word Israel (the name for the entire nation in the Old Testament) means “wrestles with God.”  We shall indeed see what an appropriate title this is.

O. (33: 4): The differences between siblings can be night and day to where they want to be worlds away from one another.  Yet, when they have been apart for some time, their differences go by the wayside and their love for one another takes over.  This happened between my sister and I when she went away to college.  She purposely did things to annoy me … I’m sure for good reasons.  But, once she left for college and I had my own space, we became much closer.  Can anyone relate to the Jacob and Esau reunion?  Or, have you had a different experience?

O. (33:10): This reminds me of when we go out to eat with the family: It’s always a race to pay the bill.

Q. (33:16): Why did Jacob not follow Esau to Seir?

A. Honestly, my suspicion is that he still didn’t trust his brother, and therefore wanted to put a little distance between himself and Esau.

Q. (34:15):  This is an intense scene.  I am glad that Jacob stood up for his daughter.  It was quite a trick to have them agree to be circumcised, then when they are still healing from the procedure, Jacob’s family attacked.  If this hadn’t been a trick, God would not have supported the agreement, right?  Doesn’t God have to be the one who chooses the people to bear the sign of His chosen?

A. Circumcision was one of the most important rules of the Law.  And indeed, there are sections of the Law that describe the procedures for admitting alien people (usually slaves, an entirely different topic) into the “house” of Israel.  The simplest rule: if you weren’t circumcised, you weren’t part of the tribe.  Actually, marriage, the reason for this little event, was the major way that people could join the tribe of Israel (think of people like Ruth).  There were particular rules about which other tribes were not to be admitted (we will see these later), but generally, there were some routes for a people of various other tribes to “join up” in certain circumstances.

Q. (35:1) Bethel is where Jacob spent the first night on his journey to Laban’s, right?  Bethel means House of God.  Does this place have long-term significance or importance in the future?

A. That’s the one, where Jacob saw the ladder.  Bethel does not appear to play a major role in the future of the nation of Israel.  The town is mentioned throughout the territorial sections (land distribution in the book of Joshua after the land is conquered) and Bethel is given to one of Joseph’s sons named Ephraim.  It did gain one infamous role: it became the center of cult worship in the Northern Kingdom (this is way in the “future” of the story, if you will) after the death of King Solomon.  So in the era of 1 and 2 Kings, it would have been known, but not in a good way.

Q. (35:5): Any idea what the terror was?  It would be so awesome to see God’s power like that.  Do you think it happens today, like in earthquakes, floods, etc.?

A. It would be tough to guess what God exactly did to make the people afraid.  Usually if it is a natural disaster, the text will say so, so this might have been something more psychological.  Whether one sees the power of God displayed in earthquakes and floods is one of the toughest questions a Christian can ask.  I leave that up to the readers to decide.

Q. (35:8): Can you tell us anything about servants of those days.  The master’s family obviously cared about them as we see in this passage as they name the tree where a nurse was buried “weeping tree.”  How did one become a servant versus a master?  How were they revered?

A. Part of the implication of Jacob’s wealth (which would have been assumed by the audience) was that he would have servants, including slaves, who came to work for him seasonably (think migrant workers today) or other servants who were hired to keep the flocks or crops, supervise workers (like field managers), cook and prepare meals, work closely with the children (like the nurse in question), or keep the tents and other dwellings clean.

While we tend to think of slavery and servanthood as racially motivated, it was mostly the result of financial considerations in the ancient world.  Servants could be hired and align themselves with masters (which would likely use the covenant ceremony we discussed last week) for protection and even have families of their own.  We must be very careful about not applying Western American notions of slavery and service to the ancient world that thought very differently about people’s value.  There would have been none of this “all men are created equal” business (actually Jesus is the person single handedly most responsible for that concept, so that gives you the timeframe- more than a thousand years in the future), they would have understood masters as being superior to servants.  People would have worked for masters, be bought and sold as slaves (sometimes to pay off debt, sometimes as a result of being taken prisoner during war), and depended upon the wealthy to survive.

Even in such a harsh world, it is not hard to see how certain servants (head servants or nurses for example) would have come to be revered by the family due to their years of service.

Q. (35:20):  Can the monument be seen today?

A. When the writer says, “the monument can be seen today”, we do not know exactly when “today” is, and there are a number of theories about that.  But if you mean, can you still see the original site, well, that depends on who you ask.  For many of the important landmarks of this story (including events that take place in the New Testament, so you’re talking about literally thousands of years later), there are usually what are called “traditional” sites of an event or marker.  (You can read about the traditional site for Rachel’s tomb here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rachel’s_Tomb).  If you read the article, it notes that there are several sites that claim to be the “correct” one, but that generally we can only guess about the accuracy of the assessment.  The same is actually true for the site of Christ’s crucifixion and burial (there are TWO traditional burial sites for Christ).  The biggest problem for a lot of these sites is that for Rachel’s tomb as example, we are talking about a place that was marked more than 3000 years ago.  With all of the war, destruction, new construction, and endless movement and death of people, it is sometimes surprising that we know so much about this era at all.

Q. (35:27): If I remember right, Abraham and Isaac lived in Hebron as foreigners because this was the land God had promised to them and their descendants.

A. Most of the areas described in these stories (notably around the Jordan river) will ALL be taken over by Jacob/Israel’s descendants in about 400 years.

For further study: Get the lowdown on each of Jacob’s sons: https://www.christianity.com/wiki/bible/why-did-god-choose-the-12-sons-of-jacob.html

Shop: This shirt is reminiscent of Jacob because he camped out — and wrestled — with God.  The night sky reminds us of God’s covenant with Abraham — that his descendants, Jacob included, would be as numerous as the stars in the sky: https://livinlight.org/product/campout/

Tomorrow’s reading: Genesis 36:1-19; 1 Chronicles 1:35-37; Genesis 36:20-30; 1 Chronicles 1:38-42; Genesis 36:31-43; 1 Chronicles 1:43-2:2