2 Here now is the story of Jacob and his family:
Joseph, when he was a young man of 17, often shepherded the flocks along with his brothers. One day as he was with Bilhah’s and Zilpah’s sons (his half-brothers), he decided to report back to their father about things they were doing wrong. 3 Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other children because he came along when he was an old man. So Israel presented Joseph with a special[a] robe he had made for him—a spectacularly colorful robe with long sleeves in it. 4 But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than the rest, they grew to hate him and couldn’t find it in themselves to speak to him without resentment or argument.
5 One day Joseph had a dream. When he told the dream to his brothers, they hated him even more.
Joseph: 6 Please listen to this dream I had! 7 There we were, binding sheaves in the field. Suddenly my sheaf rose and stood up, and then your sheaves all gathered around it and bowed down to my sheaf.
Joseph’s Brothers (annoyed): 8 Are you serious? You think you are somehow destined to reign over us? You think you are going to be our king?
This dream and what he told them about it made them hate him even more.
9 But Joseph had another dream, and he made the mistake of telling them about this dream too.
Joseph: Listen! I’ve had another dream: I saw the sun, the moon, and 11 stars bowing down to me.
10 When he told this dream to his father and brothers, even his father scolded him.
Israel: What kind of dream is this? Do you actually think your mother and I and your brothers are going to bow down before you?
11 Joseph’s brothers had become extremely jealous of him. But his father—though he scolded Joseph—kept this dream in the back of his mind.
12 About this time, Joseph’s brothers went north toward Shechem in search of better pasture for their father’s flocks.
Israel (to Joseph): 13 Aren’t your brothers pasturing the flock at Shechem? Come on then, I will send you out to them to see how they are doing.
Joseph: I’m ready, Father.
Israel: 14 Get going then. See if they’re doing all right, and make sure the flocks are well. When you get back, give me a report.
With that, Israel sent Joseph out to the valley of Hebron. When he came to the area around Shechem, 15 a man found him wandering around in a field. The man asked him what he was looking for.
Joseph: 16 I’m looking for my brothers. Please tell me where they are pasturing our flock.
Man: 17 They’ve already gone. I heard them say they were going to Dothan.
So Joseph hurried off and followed his brothers to Dothan.
18 They saw him coming even though he was still a long way off. Before he was near enough to hear them, they conspired to kill him.
Joseph’s brothers are tired of his arrogant pretense. Each and every one of them has a bill of complaint against Joseph.
Joseph’s Brothers (to each other): 19 Oh, here comes the great dreamer. 20 Let’s kill him and throw his body into one of the pits. Then we can tell everyone a wild animal killed and devoured him. We’ll see then what becomes of his stupid dreams.
21 When Reuben heard the plan, he tried to help Joseph.
Reuben: Let’s not kill him. 22 We don’t need to shed any blood to be free of him. Let’s just toss him into some pit here in the wilderness. We don’t need to lay a hand on him.
Reuben thought perhaps he could secretly come back later and get Joseph out of the pit and take him home to their father before any more harm came to him.
The brothers agreed. 23 When Joseph arrived, they ripped his robe off of him—the fancy, colorful[b] robe he always wore that his father had made for him, 24 and they threw him into the pit. Now this pit happened to be an empty cistern; there was no water in it.
25 Then they sat down to eat. Soon they looked up and saw a caravan of Ishmaelite traders approaching from Gilead. Their camels were loaded with gum, balm, and a fragrant resin; and they were on their way down to Egypt with their goods.
Judah (to his brothers): 26 What profit will it be for us if we just kill our brother and conceal the crime? 27 Come on, let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites instead. We won’t have to lay a hand on him then. He is, after all, our brother, our own flesh and blood.
All of the brothers agreed. 28 As the Midianite traders were passing by, they brought Joseph up out of the pit and sold him to the Ishmaelites for about eight ounces of silver, the usual price of young male slaves. The traders set off with Joseph in the direction of Egypt.
29 Now Reuben had not been around when the caravan came by, so when Reuben came back to the cistern later and saw that Joseph was not there, he tore his clothing in agony and despair. 30 He went back to his brothers.
Reuben: The boy is gone. What do I do now? What am I supposed to tell Father?
As the oldest, Reuben is responsible for what happens to Joseph. Does he dare go home and face his father? After sleeping with his father’s concubine, he has little chance now of being confirmed as Israel’s firstborn.
31-32 The brothers took Joseph’s fancy, colorful robe, slaughtered a male goat, and dipped it in the blood. Then they took the special[c] robe to their father.
Joseph’s Brothers: We found this, Father. Tell us if you think this is Joseph’s robe.
Israel (recognizing the robe): 33 This is my son’s robe! A wild animal must have killed and eaten him. Joseph is without a doubt torn to shreds!
34 Then Jacob wailed in agony and tore his clothes with the depth of emotional pain only a father could feel upon losing a child. He dressed in sackcloth and mourned his son for a long time. 35 All of his sons and daughters tried to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted.
Israel: No, I will go to the grave grieving for my son.
Israel is inconsolable. His grief over his son transcends even death itself.
This is how deeply Joseph’s father grieved for him. 36 Meanwhile, the Midianites arrived in Egypt and sold Joseph to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officers and the captain of the guard.
38 It was about this time that Judah decided to leave home, so he parted company with his brothers and went to see Hirah, a fellow from Adullam. 2 When he was there, Judah laid eyes on the daughter of a Canaanite man named Shua. He married her and slept with her. 3 She conceived and gave birth to her first son. Judah named him Er. 4 She conceived again and gave birth to her second son, whom she named Onan. 5 She then gave birth to her third son, and she named him Shelah. (Judah was away in Chezib when she gave birth to him.)
6 Now Judah arranged for Er, his firstborn, to marry a woman named Tamar. 7 But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was a particularly wretched human being in the eyes of the Eternal One, and so the Eternal ended his life. Judah summoned his second son, Onan.
Judah (to Onan): 8 You know our customs and the duty of a brother-in-law in a situation like this. You must go and marry your brother’s wife and make sure your brother has an heir.
9 Resentful that any child born in this kind of marriage would not be his, Onan would interrupt intercourse and spill his semen onto the ground whenever he slept with his brother’s wife. That way he would not father a child that would belong to his brother. 10 Onan’s selfish behavior was as wretched as his brother’s to the eyes of the Eternal One; so the Eternal ended Onan’s life like his brother. 11 Judah summoned his daughter-in-law Tamar.
Judah: Tamar, it is best if you remain a widow in your father’s house until my son Shelah grows up.
Now Judah said this because he was afraid that Shelah, too, would die as his brothers had. So Tamar went and remained a widow with her father.
After losing two sons, Judah thinks Tamar must be a dangerous woman. What he isn’t willing to admit is that his own sons were wicked.
12 After a while, Judah’s wife (Shua’s daughter) also died. When Judah’s time of mourning was over, he and his friend Hirah the Adullamite went to Timnah to work with his sheepshearers and enjoy the festivities. 13 When Tamar learned that her father-in-law would be coming to Timnah to shear his sheep, 14 she took off her widow’s clothes, put on a veil to conceal her true identity, and sat down at the entrance to Enaim along the road to Timnah. You see, Tamar harbored deep resentment toward her father-in-law because she knew by this time that Shelah had grown up, but she had not been given to him in marriage as Judah had promised. 15 When Judah passed by and saw her, he thought she was a prostitute because she had her face covered. 16 He decided to proposition her, so he walked over to her by the roadside.
Judah: Come on, I want to have sex with you.
He had no idea she was his daughter-in-law, but she had a proposition of her own.
Tamar: What will you give me in return if I do?
Judah: 17 I’ll send you a young goat from my flock. How about that?
Tamar: Only if you give me something to hold until you send it.
Judah: 18 What should I give you as my personal guarantee?
Tamar: Your personal seal on the cord you wear around your neck, plus the staff you carry.
Tamar knows Judah cannot be trusted, so she asks for two items so personal and unique they can easily be linked to him.
Judah did as she asked and gave her his seal and walking stick. He then went and slept with her, and she conceived his child. 19 Then she got up, took off the veil, and went back home, putting on her widow’s clothes once again.
20 Judah kept his word and sent his friend Hirah the Adullamite with the young goat so he could retrieve his seal and walking stick from the woman. But Judah’s friend couldn’t find her anywhere.
Hirah the Adullamite (to Timnah’s elders): 21 What happened to the temple prostitute who was at Enaim by the side of the road?
Elders: We have not seen any temple prostitute here.
22 Bewildered, the Adullamite returned to Judah.
Hirah the Adullamite: I couldn’t find her, and what’s odd is that the elders claimed they haven’t seen any temple prostitutes around there.
Judah: 23 Well let her keep my things then. If you go back, we’ll be laughed at. I did what I promised. I sent the young goat, and you tried but could not find her.
24 Approximately three months later, someone told Judah, “Your daughter-in-law Tamar has been promiscuous. It’s obvious her business has even made her pregnant.”
Judah: Bring her out and expose her for what she is, and then let her be burned.
25 As she was being brought out, she sent word to her father-in-law.
Tamar: It was the owner of these items who made me pregnant. Please, take a close look and tell me whose personal seal, cord, and walking stick these are.
26 When Judah saw them, he realized they were his.
Judah: She is more in the right than I am. I did not keep my word and give her in marriage to my son, Shelah.
Judah didn’t sleep with her again.
27 When the time came for her to deliver, she discovered she was carrying twins. 28 While she was in labor, one of them put out a hand; and the midwife tied a scarlet thread on it, so she would know which one came out first. 29 But just then he drew his hand back into the womb, and his brother came out first. The midwife had never seen anything quite like this.
Midwife: What a breach you’ve made here, little one!
So the child was named Perez. 30 His brother followed, the one with the scarlet thread on his hand. He was named Zerah.
This disturbing chapter is artfully inserted at the beginning of Joseph’s story for a reason. Though Joseph has the key role in getting Israel to Egypt and saving his family from the upcoming famine, it is Judah’s line that is chosen by God to play a crucial part in Israel’s more distant future. Judah’s son, Perez, is the ancestor to King David and ultimately to the Anointed One (Matthew 1). But Perez’s strange birth is overshadowed by the sleazy events that lead to his conception. The sexually-charged atmosphere of this chapter may well upset some, but Scripture is brutally honest about people and what they do. Lust and lies, deception and prostitution do not frustrate God’s plan; in fact God has a way of taking them, redeeming them, and including them within His greater will.
39 Now Joseph had been taken to Egypt. Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh and captain of the guard, himself an Egyptian, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him there to sell along with their goods and wares. 2 The Eternal One was with Joseph, however, and he became successful in his own right as a slave within the house of his Egyptian master.
3 Potiphar could not help but notice that the Eternal One was with Joseph and caused everything Joseph did to prosper. 4-5 Joseph became the favorite of the household and rose in the ranks to become Potiphar’s personal attendant. In time, Potiphar made Joseph overseer of the entire household and put him in charge of everything he owned. From that moment, the Eternal One blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake, a blessing which seemed to cover everything Potiphar possessed from house to field. 6 Potiphar entrusted everything to the care of Joseph. With him in charge, Potiphar had no concern about anything except for his private affairs, such as the food he chose to eat!
Now Joseph was a well-built, good-looking young man. 7 After a while, his master’s wife began watching him, and she tried to seduce him.
Potiphar’s Wife: Come. Sleep with me.
8 But Joseph refused.
Joseph (to Potiphar’s wife): Look, please don’t take offense, but with me in charge, my master has no concerns for anything that goes on in his house. He has trusted me with everything he has. 9 He hasn’t treated me like I am any less than he is, and he hasn’t kept anything from me—except, of course, for you because you are his wife. Why would I do something so clearly wrong and sin so blatantly against God?
Joseph’s refusal to have sex with Potiphar’s wife demonstrates how God wants His people to act. How different he is compared to Judah and Reuben!
10 Although she pursued him day after day, Joseph would not consent to sleep with her and refused to be alone with her. 11 One day, however, when he went into the house to do his work while no one else was in the house, 12 she grabbed him by his clothes and tried again to seduce him.
Potiphar’s Wife: Come on. Sleep with me.
But Joseph ran outside away from her, as far and as fast as he could, leaving her holding his clothes in her hand. 13 When she realized he rejected her again and she had his clothes in her hand, 14 she called out to the other servants of her household.
Potiphar’s Wife: See here! My husband brought this Hebrew into our house to take advantage of us! He came to me and wanted to sleep with me. I screamed as loudly as I could, 15 and when he heard me yell, he dropped his clothes here beside me and ran outside.
16 She kept Joseph’s clothes beside her until her husband came home. 17 Then she told him the same story.
Potiphar’s Wife: The Hebrew servant you brought into this household came in to take advantage of me. 18 When I screamed as loudly as I could, he dropped his clothes here beside me and ran outside.
19 When Potiphar heard his wife’s account, his face flushed with anger. 20 So Potiphar, Joseph’s master, put him into prison and locked him up in the place where the king’s prisoners were confined. Joseph remained there for a time. 21 But the Eternal One remained with Joseph and showed him His loyal love and granted him favored status with the chief jailor. 22 The jailor put Joseph in charge of all of the prisoners who were confined there. Whatever needed to be done, Joseph was the one to do it. 23 The chief jailor, like Potiphar, didn’t need to worry about anything that was in Joseph’s care because the Eternal One was with him. And whatever Joseph did worked out well because the Eternal made it so.