“These are the generations of Jacob” (Gen 37:2).
The final toledoth is much more than a collection of stories about Joseph and his brothers. The section recounts God’s faithfulness to His kingdom promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The section starts with Jacob and ends with Jacob (Gen 50).
God had repeated the kingdom promise he gave to Abraham to Isaac. God said,
“For to you and your descendants I will give all these lands and will confirm the oath I swore to your father Abraham” (Gen 26:3; see 26:24).
Though it was through deception that Jacob had received the blessing from his father (Gen 27:27-29), even after Isaac knew what had happened, he blessed Jacob and said,
“May He also give you the blessing of Abraham, to you and to your descendants with you, so that you may possess the land where you live as a stranger, which God gave to Abraham” (Gen 28:4).
As Jacob left home, he spent the night at Bethel where he dreamed about a ladder between heaven and earth. God, standing above the ladder said,
“I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your descendants. 14 Your descendants will also be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, and to the north and to the south; and in you and in your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed. 15 Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you” (Gen 28:13-15).
To fulfill the promise to Jacob, God would have to bring about radical changes in Jacob and in his sons. God required the sons of Abraham to be holy (Gen 17:1). Jacob was a supplanter from the womb (Gen 25:26, lit. “on the heel” aqeb עָקֵב; “Jacob” Yaaqob יַעֲקֹב). Jacob’s sons, born of his wives and concubines, were no different than their father. They hated their brother, Joseph, who was their father’s favorite. When they had the opportunity, they were ready to kill him. They left him in a pit to die, but finally decided to sell him into slavery. With hard hearts, they convinced their father Joseph was dead (Gen 37). They would maintain that lie for years to their father’s deep grief. A great nation is not born from murderous half-brothers.
Jacob’s sons were becoming quite like their Canaanite neighbors. They had idols and took murderous vengeance on Shechem and his family when Shechem raped their sister (Gen 34:1-35:2). Reuben lay with his father’s concubine (Gen 35:22). Judah married a Canaanite. He refused to provide for his daughter-in-law when his son died. Later he intended to visit a temple prostitute (Gen 38:2, 15, 21). How Jacob’s sons could ever give birth to the tribes of the promised nation was beyond understanding.
Though it would have appeared that Joseph was long gone, never to be seen again, God was with him. God had promised Joseph the glorious outcome in a dream when he was seventeen. But a lot had to happen to shape Joseph into the deliverer he would become. He was sold to Potiphar. He was falsely accused of violating Potiphar's wife and put into jail. But at every step, God was with Joseph (Gen 39:2-3, 21-23). God put him in charge of Potiphar’s house. The chief jailer saw God was with him, and gave him oversight of the jail. God brought the Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker into the jail where Joseph was able to explain the meaning of their dreams. There are no coincidences in this story. When Pharaoh had a dream, Joseph was called to interpret the dream. When he had interpreted the dream, Joseph was made second in the land to rule. Pharaoh confessed that God had made Joseph wise (Gen 41:39). Joseph confessed at the birth of his son, “Good has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household” (Gen 41:51), and again at the birth of his second son, “God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction” (Gen 41:52).
Joseph never thought he would ever see his brothers again, and his brothers never dreamed that when they came to Egypt for food, Joseph would be the one in charge! God’s ways are incredible! But were these the same lying, murdering, wicked brothers he had left in Canaan? God had been with them too, and at work in them during the thirteen years Joseph was gone. Would they abandon Simeon in Egypt when the Joseph required them to bring Benjamin back with them (Gen 42:20)? Would Jacob trust them with Benjamin? Jacob sent Benjamin and said,
“may God Almighty grant you compassion in the sign of the man, that he may release to you your other brother and Benjamin” (Gen 43:14).
What would they do when they found their money in their sacks? Would they keep it or return it? What would they do when Joseph gave Benjamin five times as much as their portions? What would they do when the silver cup was found in Benjamin’s bag and he was threatened with death? Judah was penitent and begged that he be taken and Benjamin set free. These were not the same brothers. Joseph had been changed. Jacob had been changed. And Joseph’s brothers had been changed. Joseph said, “God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance” (Gen 45:7). As Jacob drew near to death, he gave each of his sons a blessing. Indeed, Judah would be the father of the royal line. Jacob said of Judah,
“The scepter will not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet” (Gen 49:10).
God blessed Jacob’s sons in Egypt and gave them the best of the land (Gen 47:6). When Jacob died, his sons buried him in Canaan. At the end of his days, Joseph made his brothers promise to take his embalmed body to be buried in Canaan when they would go into the promised land. They would be that great nation.
Meredith G. Kline, Genesis: A New Commentary
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