Joseph - week 4, day 4

Today's scripture: Genesis 44:1-5 (NLT*)

Then he commanded the steward of his house, “Fill the men’s sacks with food, as much as they can carry, and put each man’s money in the top of his sack. Put my cup, the silver cup, in the top of the sack of the youngest, with his money for the grain.” And he did as Joseph told him. As soon as the morning was light, the men were sent away with their donkeys. When they had gone only a short distance from the city, Joseph said to his steward, “Go, follow after the men; and when you overtake them, say to them, ‘Why have you returned evil for good? Why have you stolen my silver cup? Is it not from this that my lord drinks? Does he not indeed use it for divination? You have done wrong in doing this.’”

When I stood in front of the Pharaoh to interpret his dream, I did not hesitate. When I gave him advice about how to save his kingdom, I did not hesitate. When people come to me from distant lands to ask for favors, or when I need to make decisions with far-reaching consequences, I do not hesitate. So why am I hesitating now? Why am I so unsure about what I need to do with my brothers? Should I reveal myself to them? Should I punish them for what they have done? I wish I knew their hearts. They are strangers to me after so many years, after such betrayal. And yet, I love them. They are my blood, the sons of my beloved father. So, I hesitate. I do not yet know enough to make such an important decision, and I have learned enough wisdom in my years to know when to wait. I need to test them, just a little more. I need to be sure...
— Joseph

THINGS TO THINK ABOUT...

  • Why, after such a happy reunion meal, does Joseph decide to test his brothers one more time?
  • Why did Joseph not yet reveal his identity to the brothers?
  • Imagine yourself as the steward, who had recently welcomed the brothers and watched them treated as honored guests. What would you be thinking as you received these new orders from your master?
  • Why does Joseph have the chalice placed in Benjamin's bag instead of another brother’s bag?
  • Why does Joseph allow the brothers to travel a distance before sending the steward after them?
  • Why do you think Joseph tells the steward to tell the brothers that Joseph uses the chalice for divination?

FOLLOW UP

"During his service in the Egyptian court narrated in Genesis, Joseph possesses a personal silver cup that he claims to use for divination, particularly in forecasting judgment on evildoers...  In Genesis 37-50, Joseph typically receives wisdom from more direct contact with God, mediated sometimes through dreams, but not through divinatory objects." The New Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, vol. 2 (Abingdon Press: Nashville, 2007, 144.)


* New Revised Standard Version Bible, © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Joseph - week 4, day 3

Today's scripture: Genesis 43:26-34 (NLT*)

When Joseph came home, they gave him the gifts they had brought him, then bowed low to the ground before him. After greeting them, he asked, “How is your father, the old man you spoke about? Is he still alive?” They replied, “Yes, our father, your servant, is alive and well.” And they bowed low again. Then Joseph looked at his brother Benjamin, the son of his own mother. “Is this your youngest brother, the one you told me about?” Joseph asked. “May God be gracious to you, my son.” Then Joseph hurried from the room because he was overcome with emotion for his brother. He went into his private room, where he broke down and wept. After washing his face, he came back out, keeping himself under control. Then he ordered, “Bring out the food!” The waiters served Joseph at his own table, and his brothers were served at a separate table. The Egyptians who ate with Joseph sat at their own table, because Egyptians despise Hebrews and refuse to eat with them. Joseph told each of his brothers where to sit, and to their amazement, he seated them according to age, from oldest to youngest. And Joseph filled their plates with food from his own table, giving Benjamin five times as much as he gave the others. So they feasted and drank freely with him.

I consider myself a man of great control. After everything I have endured and conquered, that I should find myself weeping like a small child, unable to even look my brothers in the eye. I know that I should hate them. But they are still my brothers. And when I look at young Benjamin, all I can see is my mother’s face. He is a beautiful boy. Oh Lord, was I ever that young and innocent? And my father lives and is well. I never thought that this could be possible. But now, what am I to do next? They are here, within my power, and entirely dependent upon my goodwill. What will I do? Even I am not sure at this moment. It’s time. I need to pull myself together, wash my face, and walk back in to play the gracious host. I will see what they have to say, and observe them closely. Then I will know if I am to be a brother to them or an executioner. They were, after all, both to me.
— Joseph

THINGS TO THINK ABOUT...

  • When Joseph arrives at his home, the brothers are waiting for him with gifts. What do you think is going through the minds of the brothers at this moment? Through Joseph's mind?
  • What do you think the brothers made of Joseph inexplicably running from the room after blessing Benjamin?
  • If you were one of the brothers, and saw that this strange man had correctly seated you according to your respective ages, what would you have thought?
  • When they started out from Canaan, do you think the brothers imagined that they would end their journey by sharing a delicious meal in a luxurious home with a leader of a foreign country? What do you think they were feeling as they ate?

FOLLOW UP

"Separate servings are giving to Joseph, and to the brothers, and to the Egyptians, because of religious scruples (Joseph sits between communities!). This information shows that reconciliation has not yet truly taken place. The brothers are seated at Joseph's direction (i.e., 'before him') according to their age, a strange procedure at which the brothers are astonished: How would he know without being asked? Benjamin's portion is five times greater than that of his brothers, demonstrating pleasure at Benjamin's presence, though Joseph also wants to see the brothers' reaction to this favoritism. Benjamin may be the guest of honor, but the absence of any speech on his part (in the entire story!) diminishes his role. The comment about this being a happy occasion sets up the not-so-happy turn of events that follows." The New Interpreter's Bible, vol. I (Abingdon Press: Nashville, 1994, 635.


* Holy Bible, New Living Translation, © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation.

Joseph - week 4, day 2

Today's scripture: Genesis 43:11-25 (NIV*)

And their father Israel said unto them, If it be so now, do this: take of the choice fruits of the land in your vessels, and carry down the man a present, a little balm, and a little honey, spicery and myrrh, nuts, and almonds; and take double money in your hand; and the money that was returned in the mouth of your sacks carry again in your hand; peradventure it was an oversight: take also your brother, and arise, go again unto the man: and God Almighty give you mercy before the man, that he may release unto you your other brother and Benjamin. And if I be bereaved of my children, I am bereaved. And the men took that present, and they took double money in their hand, and Benjamin; and rose up, and went down to Egypt, and stood before Joseph.

And when Joseph saw Benjamin with them, he said to the steward of his house, Bring the men into the house, and slay, and make ready; for the men shall dine with me at noon. And the man did as Joseph bade; and the man brought the men to Joseph’s house. And the men were afraid, because they were brought to Joseph’s house; and they said, Because of the money that was returned in our sacks at the first time are we brought in; that he may seek occasion against us, and fall upon us, and take us for bondmen, and our donkeys. And they came near to the steward of Joseph’s house, and they spake unto him at the door of the house, and said, Oh, my lord, we came indeed down at the first time to buy food: and it came to pass, when we came to the lodging-place, that we opened our sacks, and, behold, every man’s money was in the mouth of his sack, our money in full weight: and we have brought it again in our hand. And other money have we brought down in our hand to buy food: we know not who put our money in our sacks. And he said, Peace be to you, fear not: your God, and the God of your father, hath given you treasure in your sacks: I had your money. And he brought Simeon out unto them. And the man brought the men into Joseph’s house, and gave them water, and they washed their feet; and he gave their donkeys provender. And they made ready the present against Joseph’s coming at noon: for they heard that they should eat bread there.

I was so excited when my brothers came back from Egypt, even if they looked very stressed and tired. But instead of greeting me like they normally do after a long journey, they went right in to talk with our father. They were talking in such low voices, I couldn’t hear a word they were saying, but it sounded very serious. For the next few weeks, we had food, and I was happy. But no one else seemed to be! It was as if the food wasn’t satisfying them. They all looked so worried, but no one would tell me what was wrong. It is so annoying when they treat me like a little kid! But finally this morning Father told me that I’m going to get to travel with them to Egypt. Hurrah! I’ll get to see my brother Simeon again—he’s been busy doing something in Egypt while we’ve been home, but no one will tell me what it is. I’ve never been outside of Canaan, because Father doesn’t like me to leave his sight. I’m so excited, I can barely stand it! I’m off on my first adventure!
— Benjamin

THINGS TO THINK ABOUT...

  • Why does Jacob finally agree to allow Benjamin to travel to Egypt?
  • Why does Jacob also allow all the brothers to go? Why does he send them all?
  • What must the journey back to Egypt have been like for the brothers? For Benjamin? What must the intervening time have been like for Jacob?
  • Why do you think Jacob does not accompany his sons on this journey?
  • What is the purpose of taking the extra money and gifts to Egypt, when the agreement was simply to bring Benjamin?
  • What do you imagine the reunion of Simeon and his brothers might have been like?
  • If you were in the brothers' shoes, and were waiting for Zaphenath-paneah to show up for lunch, what would have been running through your mind?
  • Do you think the brothers believe the steward's words?

FOLLOW UP

"The steward assures them that everything is in order... and they need not be afraid. He tells them that God must have put the 'treasure' in their sacks. His statement about receiving their money renounces any claim to it; he does not offer a half-truth. He thus does not feign ignorance about the money; rather, he puts the truth in theological terms... The steward brings Simeon out to fulfill Joseph's pledge to release him if Benjamin was brought along. The steward sees that the brothers' needs are met... They are Joseph's guests. The story invites us to think that everything will now be fine between Joseph and his brothers. But not yet."
The New Interpreter's Bible, vol. I (Abingdon Press: Nashville, 1994, 634.)


* American Standard Version (ASV), Public Domain

Joseph - week 4, day 1

Today's scripture:Genesis 43:1-10(NRSV*)

Now the famine was severe in the land. And when they had eaten up the grain that they had brought from Egypt, their father said to them, “Go again, buy us a little more food.” But Judah said to him, “The man solemnly warned us, saying, ‘You shall not see my face unless your brother is with you.’ If you will send our brother with us, we will go down and buy you food; but if you will not send him, we will not go down, for the man said to us, ‘You shall not see my face, unless your brother is with you.’” Israel said, “Why did you treat me so badly as to tell the man that you had another brother?” They replied, “The man questioned us carefully about ourselves and our kindred, saying, ‘Is your father still alive? Have you another brother?’ What we told him was in answer to these questions. Could we in any way know that he would say, ‘Bring your brother down’?” Then Judah said to his father Israel, “Send the boy with me, and let us be on our way, so that we may live and not die—you and we and also our little ones. I myself will be surety for him; you can hold me accountable for him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him before you, then let me bear the blame forever. If we had not delayed, we would now have returned twice.”

This is a choice a parent should never have to make. If I do not send Benjamin with his brothers, we will be given no grain. And Simeon and whatever sons I do send will probably be killed as spies. But if I do send Benjamin, what assurances do I have that I will ever see his face again? None! When I lost Joseph, I thought I would die. And I still miss him every day of my life. But when Rachel, after all these years, was able to have another child, my heart was made happy again. How could this be happening? If I do not send Benjamin, surely we will all starve to death. This overseer my boys met in Egypt must be a hard man indeed to force an old father to make such a choice. Because I know that if I do not send Benjamin, he will die anyway. With no food, there is no hope. All my children, along with their wives and children, will die. And so I know the choice I must make. God help me.
— Jacob

THINGS TO THINK ABOUT...

  • Why does Jacob ask his sons to return to Egypt?
  • Why does Judah remind his father of the terms they agreed to when returning to Egypt?
  • Do you think Jacob does not remember the fact that his sons’ good reception in Egypt is dependent on having Benjamin with them?
  • What do you think about Jacob's accusation that this situation is a result of their mentioning Benjamin? How do you think this situation might have been different if they had not mentioned their youngest brother?
  • In addition to Reuben's offer of his own sons' lives as guarantee for Benjamin's life, Judah now offers his own life. Reuben and Judah were also the only two brothers who spoke up in defense of Joseph back in chapter 37. What does this say about these two men?

* New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Joseph - week 3, day 6

Today's scripture: Genesis 42:29-38 (NIV*)

When they came to their father Jacob in the land of Canaan, they told him all that had happened to them. They said, “The man who is lord over the land spoke harshly to us and treated us as though we were spying on the land. But we said to him, ‘We are honest men; we are not spies. We were twelve brothers, sons of one father. One is no more, and the youngest is now with our father in Canaan.’

“Then the man who is lord over the land said to us, ‘This is how I will know whether you are honest men: Leave one of your brothers here with me, and take food for your starving households and go. But bring your youngest brother to me so I will know that you are not spies but honest men. Then I will give your brother back to you, and you can trade in the land.’” As they were emptying their sacks, there in each man’s sack was his pouch of silver! When they and their father saw the money pouches, they were frightened. Their father Jacob said to them, “You have deprived me of my children. Joseph is no more and Simeon is no more, and now you want to take Benjamin. Everything is against me!”

Then Reuben said to his father, “You may put both of my sons to death if I do not bring him back to you. Entrust him to my care, and I will bring him back.” But Jacob said, “My son will not go down there with you; his brother is dead and he is the only one left. If harm comes to him on the journey you are taking, you will bring my gray head down to the grave in sorrow.”

My brothers have left for Canaan, and Simeon sits waiting in a prison cell. After all this time, I’m just not sure how I feel about what has happened. I remember having those dreams as a teenager, dreams of power and influence, and I remember how I felt knowing that my brothers would bow down before me. All through the years in the prison, I remembered that feeling, and wished that it could come true. What did I want? Revenge? Reconciliation? When suddenly the dreams were fulfilled, and my brothers lay on the floor in front of me, it was almost overwhelming. I am a man of great power with responsibility for the greatest land in the world. And yet... seeing those faces after so long... I wanted to weep. If I had told them that I was their little brother Joseph, they would undoubtedly have rejoiced. But would they have been happy to see me, the boy they once so hated? Or would they have been happy to see someone in power who they could influence? I have to be sure of their motives before I reveal myself to them. How could I blindly trust my brothers when they have injured me so greatly? How can I forgive them for what they have done?
— Joseph

THINGS TO THINK ABOUT...

  • Can you imagine the conversation between the brothers as they yet again journey to bring their father bad news?
  • How would you have felt delivering the news to Jacob?
  • What do you think of Jacob's response to his sons?
  • Why do you think Joseph is so interested in seeing Benjamin?
  • Reuben offers the lives of both his sons to Jacob as a guarantee that Benjamin will not be harmed in Egypt. What do you think of this offer?
  • What do you think the brothers were thinking when Jacob refuses to allow Benjamin to go to Egypt?
  • Is Jacob willing to sacrifice Simeon in order to keep Benjamin safe?

FOLLOW UP

At this point in the story, things are not looking well for Simeon. But never fear. "Exodus 6:15 provides a list of the offspring of Simeon, while the census accounts in Numbers list the clans and their total size for the wilderness period (1:22-23; 26:12). Simeon is also named as one of the six tribes who are to stand on Mount Gerizim for the blessing of the people once they enter the promised land (Deuteronomy 27:12; Joshua 8:33)."
The New Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, vol. 5 (Abingdon Press: Nashville, 2009, 258.)


* Holy Bible, New International Version, Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.

Joseph - week 3, day 5

Today's scripture: Genesis 42:18-28 (ESV*)

On the third day Joseph said to them, “Do this and you will live, for I fear God: if you are honest men, let one of your brothers remain confined where you are in custody, and let the rest go and carry grain for the famine of your households, and bring your youngest brother to me. So your words will be verified, and you shall not die.” And they did so. Then they said to one another, “In truth we are guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the distress of his soul, when he begged us and we did not listen. That is why this distress has come upon us.” And Reuben answered them, “Did I not tell you not to sin against the boy? But you did not listen. So now there comes a reckoning for his blood.” They did not know that Joseph understood them, for there was an interpreter between them. Then he turned away from them and wept. And he returned to them and spoke to them. And he took Simeon from them and bound him before their eyes. And Joseph gave orders to fill their bags with grain, and to replace every man's money in his sack, and to give them provisions for the journey. This was done for them.

Then they loaded their donkeys with their grain and departed. And as one of them opened his sack to give his donkey fodder at the lodging place, he saw his money in the mouth of his sack. He said to his brothers, “My money has been put back; here it is in the mouth of my sack!” At this their hearts failed them, and they turned trembling to one another, saying, “What is this that God has done to us?”

This Zaphenath-paneah is a hard man. I suppose I can understand why he thought that ten men arriving together might be a gang of spies. But then to throw us in jail after we explained to him that we are brothers, and to leave us there for three days, that I don’t understand. We came all this way looking for assistance, and instead we receive an audience with someone who throws us into the pit. It didn’t take me long to realize that we were being punished somehow for what we did to Joseph. I told my brothers just that as we stood in Zaphenath-paneah’s hall. He is going to release us to bring food back to our families, but one of us has to stay behind as a hostage to guarantee our return with Benjamin. I said to my brothers, “Don’t you see? Even though Joseph begged us not to hurt him, we didn’t listen. This is our punishment for what we did.” I swear, for just a moment I thought I saw Zaphenath-paneah wince when I spoke, but there is no way he could have understood me. He was speaking through an interpreter the whole time, and he doesn’t speak our language. He turned away for a moment, then had Simeon tied up and dragged off to the prison. But he let the rest of us go. So we’re on our way home now, and I have to deliver the news to our father. None of this has gone according to plan. I just hope the journey home goes smoothly.
— Reuben

THINGS TO THINK ABOUT...

  • Why does Joseph use an interpreter to speak to the brothers when he can understand them perfectly?
  • What advantage does it give Joseph to have the brothers think he can't understand them?
  • What does Joseph hope to learn through testing his brothers in this way?
  • Why do you think Joseph chose Simeon as the hostage?
  • Why does Joseph put the money in the sacks?
  • Why do the brothers blame God for what has happened?

FOLLOW UP

"Joseph orders not only that the brothers be given grain and food, but also that the money paid for the grain be placed in their sacks. This ploy explores the theme of integrity rather than being a sign of love or harshness. Even more, it ironically relates to their selling him for silver. This elicits further reflections regarding what they have done, including God's activity in their lives. The brothers depart for Canaan without Simeon; en route one brother discovers the money. Their 'hearts sink'—they could be accused as being thieves as well as spies. Perhaps catching the irony of the silver, they feel themselves at the mercy of powers beyond their own. Joseph, of course, had done this; yet, his discernment and wisdom are God-given. Hence, the brothers do get it right in one sense: God indeed remains active in these exchanges among the brothers, not least in seeing to the moral order at work in their lives." The New Interpreter's Bible, vol. I (Abingdon Press: Nashville, 1994, 629.)


* The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

Joseph - week 3, day 4

Today's scripture: Genesis 42:6-17 (NRSV*)

Now Joseph was governor over the land; it was he who sold to all the people of the land. And Joseph’s brothers came and bowed themselves before him with their faces to the ground. When Joseph saw his brothers, he recognized them, but he treated them like strangers and spoke harshly to them. “Where do you come from?” he said. They said, “From the land of Canaan, to buy food.” Although Joseph had recognized his brothers, they did not recognize him. Joseph also remembered the dreams that he had dreamed about them. He said to them, “You are spies; you have come to see the nakedness of the land!” They said to him, “No, my lord; your servants have come to buy food. We are all sons of one man; we are honest men; your servants have never been spies.” But he said to them, “No, you have come to see the nakedness of the land!” They said, “We, your servants, are twelve brothers, the sons of a certain man in the land of Canaan; the youngest, however, is now with our father, and one is no more.” But Joseph said to them, “It is just as I have said to you; you are spies! Here is how you shall be tested: as Pharaoh lives, you shall not leave this place unless your youngest brother comes here! Let one of you go and bring your brother, while the rest of you remain in prison, in order that your words may be tested, whether there is truth in you; or else, as Pharaoh lives, surely you are spies.” And he put them all together in prison for three days.

As the oldest son, I know my responsibility to my family. I know that I have to protect my younger brothers, and to find a way to procure food to keep my father and brothers alive. We’ve had such a long journey to get to Egypt. Not an easy road to travel! Then we arrived with, I think, thousands of other people all traveling for the same thing: food. It was a bit frightening, being jostled around on the full streets, with so many hungry people in a panic. It was all I could do to keep track of my nine brothers. Then we were brought into the presence of Zaphenath-paneah himself! We had heard about him from the moment we stepped foot in Egypt. A man with the power of life and death, the power to give food or withhold it. The power of Pharaoh! I told all my brothers to put their faces right down to the ground as soon as we entered his chambers. I didn’t want to take a chance at offending this great man by our country manners. But somehow we managed to offend him anyway. Now we’re sitting here in jail, and he’s told us that we need to bring back our little brother Benjamin, or be prosecuted as spies. How in the world am I going to explain this to Father? After what happened to Joseph, it will break his heart if he loses Benjamin, too.
— Reuben

THINGS TO THINK ABOUT...

  • The brothers only know that they are being directed to meet the man who is administering the kingdom for the Pharaoh. What must be running through their minds at this moment?
  • Why do you think Joseph didn't immediately tell his brothers who he was?
  • The brothers don't recognize Joseph. Why do you think that is?
  • Why does Joseph accuse the brothers of being spies?
  • We are told that right before he accuses them of being spies, he remembers the dreams he had of them. How might this memory of those dreams have affected his actions here?
  • The last time Joseph saw his family was over twenty years before, and he was the youngest son at the time. What do you imagine Joseph is thinking and feeling as he sees his brothers and hears that he now has a younger brother?

FOLLOW UP

"The fact that the brothers bow down before Joseph fulfills the dream in 37:7, reinforced by the brothers' repeated use of lord/servant language (verses 10, 11, 13, 30, 33). Verse 9a shows that Joseph recognizes this; his dream has now come full circle. This recognition now propels the story over the next chapters. The brothers' lack of recognition enables Joseph to manipulate the situation toward the objective he chooses." The New Interpreter's Bible, vol. I (Abingdon Press: Nashville, 1994, 628.)


* New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Joseph - week 3, day 3

Today's scripture: Genesis 42:1-5 (NIV*)

When Jacob learned that there was grain in Egypt, he said to his sons, “Why do you just keep looking at each other?” He continued, “I have heard that there is grain in Egypt. Go down there and buy some for us, so that we may live and not die.”

Then ten of Joseph’s brothers went down to buy grain from Egypt. But Jacob did not send Benjamin, Joseph’s brother, with the others, because he was afraid that harm might come to him. So Israel’s sons were among those who went to buy grain, for there was famine in the land of Canaan also.

My sons. What am I to do with such sons? We’re on the verge of starvation here in Canaan, and they’re just sitting around looking at each other, each hoping that the other one will take some responsibility for fixing the situation. I am an old man, and I had high hopes that my sons would grow up to take care of me in my old age. Such dreams. I’ve heard that they still have grain for sale in Egypt, and I would go there myself, but... I’m an old man! I would have thought that my boys would have taken it upon themselves to find a way to get food for me, but I’ll just have to light a fire under them. Again. I’ll send a few of them off to Egypt to buy grain so that we don’t starve. Actually, I think I’ll send them all, and get some peace and quiet for a change. But no way am I sending Benjamin with them. They don’t have a good track record of keeping their youngest brothers alive. Benjamin stays safe here with me. I can’t lose him the way I lost Joseph. I’m an old man, and that might just kill me...
— Jacob

THINGS TO THINK ABOUT...

  • Why do you think the brothers were "looking at each other"?
  • This is a life and death situation (see verse 2). Why is it Jacob who comes up with a solution, and not the brothers?
  • Why do you think Jacob didn't just send one or two of his sons to Egypt?
  • Why did Jacob not send Benjamin with the rest of his brothers?
  • If you were Benjamin, how do you think you might feel at being left behind?
  • How do you think you would have felt as one of the brothers entering the city in Egypt with all of the other people in need?

FOLLOW UP

This passage contains foreshadowing of the Exodus: "Verse 5 seems to be set already in Egypt. It blends the brothers into a crowd of peoples who have made the journey for the same purpose, picking up on the theme of 41:57. The phrase ‘sons of Israel’ appears purposely ambiguous; it refers to Jacob, but also anticipates the Israel of the exodus. The journeys in and out of Egypt mirror later developments." The New Interpreter's Bible, vol. I (Abingdon Press: Nashville, 1994, 626.


* Holy Bible, New International Version, NIV, © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.

Joseph - week 3, day 2

Today's scripture: Genesis 41:50-57 (NLT*)

During this time, before the first of the famine years, two sons were born to Joseph and his wife, Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera, the priest of On. Joseph named his older son Manasseh, for he said, “God has made me forget all my troubles and everyone in my father’s family.” Joseph named his second son Ephraim, for he said, “God has made me fruitful in this land of my grief.”

At last the seven years of bumper crops throughout the land of Egypt came to an end. Then the seven years of famine began, just as Joseph had predicted. The famine also struck all the surrounding countries, but throughout Egypt there was plenty of food. Eventually, however, the famine spread throughout the land of Egypt as well. And when the people cried out to Pharaoh for food, he told them, “Go to Joseph, and do whatever he tells you.” So with severe famine everywhere, Joseph opened up the storehouses and distributed grain to the Egyptians, for the famine was severe throughout the land of Egypt. And people from all around came to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph because the famine was severe throughout the world.

I have been very lucky in the husband Pharaoh chose for me. Zaphenath-paneah is a good man, and we have been blessed with two healthy boys in the seven years we have been together. I was initially confused when the boys were born, and he wanted to give them such strange names. So often I could almost forget that he wasn’t born Egyptian. His accent is so slight now, and he makes such a handsome administrator. Why would he want to remind everyone that he was born a foreigner? But he was so insistent, I did not want to force the point. So we named the boys Manasseh and Ephraim. What beautiful boys! They will grow up to be just like their father, and serve the Pharaoh. My husband has been faithful in carrying out his duties, and the Pharaoh often shows his appreciation to our family. And now that the famine has begun, just as my husband predicted, the Pharaoh is leaning on him more and more for advice and guidance. My husband will save our land, and he will keep our family safe and strong. I am a lucky wife.
— Asenath

THINGS TO THINK ABOUT...

  • The name Manasseh stems from the Hebrew word nāshâ, which means to forget. Joseph has accepted a new name and a new life in Egypt. What point could he be making by naming his son Manasseh?
  • If Joseph has "forgotten his father's house," (41:50) why does he not choose traditional Egyptian names for his sons? Why does he choose names that have Hebrew roots?
  • The name Ephraim stems from the Hebrew word pārâ, which means to be fruitful. This seems to be a more positive name for his second son. Why do you think this is?
  • If you were experiencing seven years of abundance, how willing would you be to think about a future possibility of famine?
  • What parallels are there in this abundance/famine pattern in your life?

FOLLOW UP

"When the years of famine come, it affects every country, not just Egypt. But only Egypt has grain. The success of Joseph redounds to his reputation. When Egyptians cry out for bread due to the famine's severity, they can get relief from Joseph (note that they buy grain; it is not given away). In fact, Joseph's wisdom enables Egypt to become the bread basket for 'all the world' (verses 54-57)." The New Interpreter's Bible, vol. I (Abingdon Press: Nashville, 1994, 622.


* Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation.

Joseph - week 3, day 1

Today's scripture: Genesis 41:37-49 (ESV*)

This proposal pleased Pharaoh and all his servants. And Pharaoh said to his servants, “Can we find a man like this, in whom is the Spirit of God?" Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has shown you all this, there is none so discerning and wise as you are. You shall be over my house, and all my people shall order themselves as you command.Only as regards the throne will I be greater than you.” And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt.” Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his hand and put it on Joseph's hand, and clothed him in garments of fine linen and put a gold chain about his neck. And he made him ride in his second chariot. And they called out before him, “Bow the knee!" Thus he set him over all the land of Egypt. Moreover, Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I am Pharaoh, and without your consent no one shall lift up hand or foot in all the land of Egypt.” And Pharaoh called Joseph's name Zaphenath-paneah. And he gave him in marriage Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera priest of On. So Joseph went out over the land of Egypt.

Joseph was thirty years old when he entered the service of Pharaoh king of Egypt. And Joseph went out from the presence of Pharaoh and went through all the land of Egypt. During the seven plentiful years the earth produced abundantly, and he gathered up all the food of these seven years, which occurred in the land of Egypt, and put the food in the cities. He put in every city the food from the fields around it. And Joseph stored up grain in great abundance, like the sand of the sea, until he ceased to measure it, for it could not be measured.

It is amazing how quickly things can change. Just a few years ago, in a matter of minutes I went from being the favorite son to a slave bound for Egypt. Then because of the lies of my master’s wife, I went from a trusted slave to a forgotten prisoner in a dingy jail. And now, oh now! From that jail to the Pharaoh’s palace! In place of that colorful robe from my father that my brothers so cruelly stole from me, I have the finest Egyptian clothes and jewelry. I have a chariot and driver at my disposal, and a signet ring symbolizing my power. I have a beautiful wife named Asenath, and even have a new name, given to me by Pharaoh himself. I am no longer Joseph, but am Zaphenath-paneah, and am in charge of the entire country of Egypt!
— Joseph

THINGS TO THINK ABOUT...

  • What is the symbolism in the young Hebrew boy named Joseph being renamed Zaphenath-paneah?
  • Do you think that leaving his Hebrew roots behind him would help him to accomplish more in his new role as Pharaoh's right-hand man?
  • We do not hear any word of refusal from Joseph to Pharaoh's sweeping changes in his life: Egyptian clothing, a non-Hebrew wife, and new name. Why do you think this is?
  • Even though there is no criticism in the text of Joseph's decision to accept these changes, the scripture continues to refer to him as "Joseph," not "Zaphenath-paneah." Why is this?
  • Look again at the Joseph at the beginning of the story, and compare this man who is in charge of Egypt. What changes have taken place?

FOLLOW UP

"The acts of giving or changing a name can be descriptive or prescriptive (that is, demonstrating the authority of the one giving the name)... The pharaoh of Egypt gives Joseph a new name as part of commissioning Joseph to be a royal administrator."
The New Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, vol. 4 (Abingdon Press: Nashville, 2006, 218.)

"There is some evidence that slaves from the ancient Near East achieved positions of high standing in Egyptian royal circles. The rite of installation also has parallels in that world, and rings, chains, and chariots that were used on such occasions have been found."
The New Interpreter's Bible, vol. I (Abingdon Press: Nashville, 1994, 622.)


* The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.