Old Testament Reading Guide -February 27-March 4, 2012

How do I use this reading guide?

Genesis 37:1-11        Joseph and His Famous Trouble-making Dreams  

We are told that Joseph is seventeen when he comes on the scene.  The last time we saw Joseph he had just been born of Rachel.  We find Joseph with his brothers “the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah.”  To find out who they are we have to look back; but to save the time let me just tell you: the sons of Bilhah are Dan and Naphtali; the sons of Zilpah are Gad and Asher.

What was the special nature of Joseph’s relationship with his father Jacob?
[“Now Israel {Jacob} loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age.” (Gen. 37:3 NIV)]

How did Jacob (Israel) demonstrate his preference for Joseph?
[He had made him “a richly ornamented robe”.  (Gen. 37:3 NIV)]

How did this action enhance Joseph’s standing with his brothers?
[It didn’t.  Joseph’s brothers hated him because Israel had shown favor to him over the others. v. Gen. 37:4)]

Describe Joseph’s first dream and opine (speculate, or form an opinion) why this was not the best public relations maneuver.  
[Since Joseph was already very unpopular among his brothers, Joseph’s dream about how the brothers’ sheaves bow down to his sheaf will not advance his standing among them.]

Did Joseph learn from this experience?
[Unhappily, no.  Joseph had another dream, far more overreaching than the first, which he also shared with his brothers.  In this dream “the sun and moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.  When he told his father as well as his brothers, his father rebuked him and said, ‘What is this dream you had?  Will your mother {who by this time was dead} and I and your brothers actually come and bow down to the ground before you?” (Gen. 37:9-10 NIV)]

Genesis 37:12-24             Things Take a Turn for the Worse

Joseph’s ten brothers (Benjamin could not have been among them – he would have been too young) were in Shechem tending the flocks.  Joseph was in the Valley of Hebron which was roughly thirty miles away.  What does Jacob tell Joseph to do?
[Israel tells Joseph to go to his brothers to find out how they were doing and to bring a report back to him.  Joseph goes to Shechem and there he finds out that his brothers are grazing their sheep twelve miles farther north in Dothan (a total of more than forty-two miles from Jacob).]

What dastardly deed did Joseph’s brothers devise?
[They plotted to kill him, dispose of the body, and then tell Jacob that a wild animal had attacked him.]

Reuben figures highly in this episode.  What did he do and why did he do it?
[Reuben advises against killing Joseph but rather to put him in an empty cistern (well or reservoir) so that later he could return him to Israel.]

What do the brothers settle on?
[They strip Joseph of his ornate robe, dipped it in blood, and threw Joseph in an empty cistern.  They needed the many-colored coat as evidence.)]

Genesis 37:25-36    Joseph Finds Himself in Egypt

What brilliant business option does Judah come up with?  “What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood?” (Genesis 37:26 NIV)
[Judah’s plan is that they sell Joseph to a band of Ishmaelites (a caravan) which is headed for Egypt.  They get twenty shekels of silver for Joseph.]

For some reason which the bible does not inform us of, Reuben is not among the brothers when this deal is made.  What does he do when he learns what his brothers have done?  Why?
[Reuben tears his robes when he learns that Joseph is missing.  He believes Joseph is dead and his brothers do not disabuse (correct) him of that notion.  Reuben believes the lie which will make it easier to sell to Israel.]

Human nature is rather predictable.  Jacob’s sons present him with the now dipped-in-blood coat.  What is Israel’s reaction?  To what conclusion does Jacob jump?
[Israel sees the blood-stained coat and presumes that Joseph is dead; torn apart by a wild animal.  He dons sackcloth and ashes in mourning for his Joseph.  This is evil because this is exactly what Jacob’s sons hope he concludes saving them from having to lie to him.  This is diabolical because, as in the case of Reuben, they don’t correct the false belief Jacob has embraced.  You can’t accuse them of lying to him, just deceiving him.]

Genesis 39:1-23        Joseph and the Not-so-virtuous Wife of Potiphar

In verse two we see that “the LORD was with Joseph”.  This has to mean something.  According to verses two and three what does this mean?
[Joseph prospered “and that the LORD was with him and that the LORD gave him success in everything he did.”]

How does Potiphar “tap into” this favor that Joseph enjoyed?
[Potiphar put Joseph in complete charge of his household “and he entrusted to his care everything he owned.  From the time he put him in charge of his household and of all that he owned, the LORD blessed the household of the Egyptian because of Joseph.” (Gen. 39:4b-5 NIV)]

What additional “benefit” does Potiphar experience because he had so favored Joseph?
[Potiphar experienced “peace of mind” (“…he did not concern himself with anything except the food he ate. Gen. 39:6); he did not worry about anything Joseph was commissioned to take care of.]

Now things begin to heat up.  What entices Potiphar’s wife to try to seduce Joseph?
[“Now Joseph was well-built and handsome…” (Gen. 39:6 NIV)]

What is Joseph’s response to these attempts?
[“But he refused.  ‘With me in charge’, he told her, ‘my master does not concern himself with anything in the house; everything he owns he has entrusted to my care.  My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife.  How could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?’ (Gen. 39:8-9 NIV)]

Mrs. Potiphar does not give up.  She continues to taunt Joseph until one day…  Joseph flees from the wife of Potiphar but she snags his cloak.  Bear in mind: “Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, not hell a fury like a woman scorned.” (William Congreve 1670-1929)  So Potiphar’s wife uses the evidence “in hand” and, in essence, screams “rape”.  What is Potiphar’s response to these developments?
[Naturally, (and if he knew what was good for him) he believed his wife and sent Joseph directly to jail. “…he burned with anger.” (Gen. 39:19 NIV)]

Virtue has its own rewards but I doubt jail was one of them.  We saw back in verse two that “the LORD was with Joseph”.  How does this help Joseph now, if it does?
[Again Joseph gains favor in the sight of his superiors – in this case the prison warden.  Joseph, in essence, becomes a trustee and is put in charge of the prisoners.  Now it’s the warden’s turn not to worry about anything put in Joseph’s care.]

Genesis 40:1-23         Happy and Unhappy Dreams

Early in this chapter we learn that the Pharaoh’s chief baker and chief cupbearer are tossed in jail.  The chief baker is probably someone whom Pharaoh wanted to honor for some service rendered or some deed for which should be recognized.  Let’s just say the position was an honorary one.  The chief cupbearer – well that is something else altogether.  The chief cupbearer would have been a man in whom Pharaoh had complete trust – he was, in essence, the food taster.  In other places of scripture we can gather how important this court official was.  {Just a note: Nehemiah is the most notable (to us, that is) cupbearer in the Old Testament. – j.t.}

We saw earlier that Joseph was gifted with having dreams, and perhaps, the interpretation of them, though his method of delivery could be improved upon.  Anyway what do the chief cupbearer and chief baker have in common?
[Both the chief cupbearer and the chief baker “had a dream the same night, and each dream had a meaning of its own.” (Gen. 40:5 NIV)]

Joseph saw that these men were burdened and he asked them, “Why are your faces so sad today?”  (Gen. 40:7b NIV)  He then tries to encourage them by telling them that the interpretation of dreams belongs to God. So they told Joseph their dreams.  What was the cupbearer’s dream?  What was the baker’s dream?
[The cupbearer “said to him, ‘In my dream I saw a vine in front of me and on the vine were three branches.  As soon as it budded, it blossomed, and its clusters ripened into grapes.  Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand, and I took the grapes, squeezed them into Pharaoh’s cup and put the cup in his hand. …
The chief baker “said to Joseph, ‘I too had a dream: On my head were three baskets of bread.  In the top basket were all kinds of baked goods for Pharaoh, but the birds were eating them out of the basket on my head.’” (Gen. 40:9-11 and 16-17 NIV)]

This was a case of “I have some good news and some bad news.”   What were the interpretations of the dreams?
[“‘This is what it means,’ Joseph said to him (the chief cupbearer).  ‘The three branches are three days.  Within three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your position, and you will put Pharaoh’s cup in his hand, just as you used to do when you were his cupbearer.”’  Clearly this is the good news.  Now for the bad news.  “‘This is what it means’ Joseph said (to the chief baker).  ‘The three baskets are three days.  Within three days Pharaoh will lift off your head and hang you on a tree.  And the birds will eat away your flesh.’”  (Genesis 40:13-14 and 18-19 NIV)]

What is the only thing Joseph asks of the chief cupbearer?
[Joseph only wanted the cupbearer to remember him once he was back in Pharaoh’s service.  It was clear that the chief baker would not be of help to Joseph.]

How accurate was Joseph’s interpretation of the dreams?
[The chief cupbearer was restored after three days; the chief baker was hanged after three days.  “The chief cupbearer, however, did not remember Joseph; he forgot him.” (Genesis 40:23 NIV)]

Do you really think you would like to know the future?  (I would not.)

Genesis 41:1-13        Pharaoh’s Turn

Dreams were of great significance in ancient times; they were the means by which God could communicate with man.  The dreams of the cupbearer and the baker were of great importance to those individuals, but most of the time the dreams mentioned are intended for a wider audience.  We have not yet seen the realization of the dreams Joseph had while still with his brothers – that will come to pass later in Genesis.  The dreams of Pharaoh will have ramifications for Joseph and his family for hundreds of years to come.

What were the two dreams of Pharaoh?
[“When two full years had passed, Pharaoh had a dream: He was standing by the Nile, when out of the river there came up seven cows, sleek and fat, and they grazed among the reeds.  After them, seven other cows, ugly and gaunt, came up out of the Nile and stood beside those on the riverbank.  And the cows that were ugly and gaunt ate up the seven sleek, fat cows.  Then Pharaoh woke up.  He fell asleep again and had a second dream: Seven heads of grain, healthy and good, were growing on a single stalk.  After them, seven other heads of grain sprouted – thin and scorched by the east wind.  The thin heads of grain swallowed up the seven healthy, full heads.”   (Genesis 41:1-7 NIV)]

Pharaoh has a problem: he cannot interpret these dreams.  What is his course of action?
[He sends for all the magicians and wise men of the land to interpret the dreams but they could not.]

Pharaoh still has a problem.  It is here that we begin to see the influence and importance of the cupbearer.  How can the cupbearer help both Pharaoh and Joseph?
[Well, to use the cupbearer’s words: “Today I am reminded of my shortcomings.” (Genesis 41:9 NIV)  Indeed, the only thing Joseph requested of the cupbearer was to be remembered in the court of Pharaoh.  Here it is two years later.  Better late than never!  The chief cupbearer informs Pharaoh that there is a man in the prison who may be able to interpret his dreams.  He then tells Pharaoh about his own experience and the experience of the chief baker while they were both imprisoned and how accurate the interpretation that Joseph rendered turned out to be.]

Genesis 41:14-45                    Joseph Delivers Results

So Joseph is freed and summoned to Pharaoh’s court whereupon Pharaoh recounts both of the dreams which he had.  What is Joseph’s rather succinct assessment?
[“Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, ‘The dreams of Pharaoh are one and the same’” (Genesis 41:25)]

But, that is not all.  What is the interpretation of the dreams?
“It is just as I said to Pharaoh: God has shown Pharaoh what he is about to do.  Seven (!) years of great abundance are coming throughout the land of Egypt, but seven (!) years of famine will follow them.”  (Genesis 41:28-30a NIV)

What is the significance of the dream being in two forms?
[“The reason the dream was given to Pharaoh in two forms is that the matter has been firmly decided by God, and God will do it soon.”  (Genesis 41:32 NIV)]

The next scene is one of shameless self-promotion.  Who else could Pharaoh have chosen to undertake the management of the country’s resources than Joseph?  So Joseph is chosen by the very wise Pharaoh to take care of Egypt’s food supply.  And more than that!

How high does Pharaoh raise Joseph?
[Joseph is named second only to Pharaoh in power and authority.  He becomes, as it were, like a prince among the people.]

Why, do you suppose, Pharaoh changed Joseph’s name?  (The bible is not helpful with this question.)
[We have seen this several times already.  God changed Abram’s name to Abraham; God changed Jacob’s name to Israel; and we have seen that Daniel and his friends names were changed when they were removed to Nebuchadnezzar’s court in Babylon.  Abram’s name was changed to Abraham after “he believed God” about God’s promises that he would become the father of many nations.  Jacob’s name was changed because he wrestled with God and prevailed – which is what Israel means.  Joseph would have been considered very wise and shrewd – especially, as it turns out, he was right – that Pharaoh would have honored him with a new name.

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