Joseph – week 2, day 3

Pentecost

TODAY’S SCRIPTURE: Genesis 40:16-23 (NIV*)

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. Then Pharaoh woke up; it had been a dream.

In the morning his mind was troubled, so he sent for all the magicians and wise men of Egypt. Pharaoh told them his dreams, but no one could interpret them for him.

AN IMAGINARY JOURNAL ARTICLE

Quote BeginI spent most of the night tossing and turning. I have never had such vivid dreams in my life. And disturbing! Throughout the dream, I had this feeling of dread and fear as I watched the healthy cows being eaten by the starved cows, and then the good grain devoured by the thin grain. I woke up sweating, all of my muscles clenched. I’m surprised my servants didn’t hear my blood pounding through my veins. I knew that these were not just ordinary dreams. These were important messages from the gods. Even though I dreaded what they would tell me, I immediately assembled my court magicians and wise men for their interpretations. But there was no solace to be found in an interpretation from these fools. Not one of them could tell me what the dreams meant! The wisest men in my land, and completely useless to me in my time of need! I have no doubt that the meaning of these dreams is incredibly important to my future, and to the future of my land. But there is no one to help. I, the most powerful man in the world, am powerless in the face of my dreams. I must find a way!Quote End
— Pharaoh

THINGS TO THINK ABOUT…

  • Why might this dream have been sent by God to Pharaoh?
  • What are the similarities between the two dreams?
  • Why do you think none of the “wise men” of Pharaoh’s court were able to interpret the dreams?
  • How might you have interpreted the dreams?
  • If you were in Pharaoh’s shoes, how might you have felt when his counselors were unable to help him?
  • Have you ever experienced a troubling dream that stayed with you after you awoke?


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

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Joseph – week 2, day 2

Pentecost

TODAY’S SCRIPTURE: Genesis 40:16-23 (NLT*)

When the chief baker saw that Joseph had given the first dream such a positive interpretation, he said to Joseph, “I had a dream, too. In my dream there were three baskets of white pastries stacked on my head. The top basket contained all kinds of pastries for Pharaoh, but the birds came and ate them from the basket on my head.”

“This is what the dream means,” Joseph told him. “The three baskets also represent three days. Three days from now Pharaoh will lift you up and impale your body on a pole. Then birds will come and peck away at your flesh.”

Pharaoh’s birthday came three days later, and he prepared a banquet for all his officials and staff. He summoned his chief cup-bearer and chief baker to join the other officials. He then restored the chief cup-bearer to his former position, so he could again hand Pharaoh his cup. But Pharaoh impaled the chief baker, just as Joseph had predicted when he interpreted his dream. Pharaoh’s chief cup-bearer, however, forgot all about Joseph, never giving him another thought.

AN IMAGINARY JOURNAL ARTICLE

Quote BeginWhen I heard what Joseph told the cupbearer, I couldn’t wait for him to interpret my dream. Now I wish I had never spoken to him at all. He tells the cupbearer that things are going to be all wonderful and happy for him, but me? Poor me? He tells me that I’m going to end up with my head on a pole within three days. Great. At first I thought that maybe Joseph was just a crackpot. Why listen to anything he had to say? After all, if he was such great shakes as a dream interpreter, what is he doing stuck in a prison? If he was any good, he would be in demand all around the kingdom. So, no. I’m not going to worry. By now, the Pharaoh has forgotten all about us. I’ll just bide my time here. I don’t need to go back to that messy old palace kitchen to bake bread for the royal family. I like my head just where it is, thank you very much. Not that I believe anything Joseph said about the dreams. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about! Nothing is going to happen… Oh dear… The warden just said that the cupbearer and I have been released, and Pharaoh is asking for us. Suddenly the prison isn’t looking so bad.Quote End
— Pharaoh’s Baker

THINGS TO THINK ABOUT…

  • What are the differences between the dreams of the cupbearer and the chief baker?
  • How might you have interpreted the baker’s dream?
  • How do you think Joseph might have felt delivering the interpretation?
  • Why do you think it was so easy for the cupbearer to forget his promise to Joseph?
  • Joseph remains in prison for two more years following his interaction with the cupbearer and chief baker. If you were in his situation, would the fact that your interpretations of the dreams had been correct give you comfort, even though you remained in prison?

FOLLOW-UPS

The Pharaoh in Genesis lived in a pre-gluten-free world, where “baking bread and cakes was one of the most important food-preparation activities undertaken in the household on a daily basis… Bread was literally the ‘staff of life’: along with other foods made from wheat, barley, and other grains, bread was the primary source of carbohydrate in the Iron Age diet. Several hundred types of breads and pastries have been documented in ancient Near Eastern literature.”
The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, vol. 1 (Abingdon Press: Nashville, 2006, 382.)


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

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Joseph – week 2, day 1

Pentecost

TODAY’S SCRIPTURE: Genesis 40:1-15 (NRSV*)

Some time after this, the cupbearer of the king of Egypt and his baker offended their lord the king of Egypt. Pharaoh was angry with his two officers, the chief cupbearer and the chief baker, and he put them in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, in the prison where Joseph was confined. The captain of the guard charged Joseph with them, and he waited on them; and they continued for some time in custody. One night they both dreamed—the cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt, who were confined in the prison—each his own dream, and each dream with its own meaning. When Joseph came to them in the morning, he saw that they were troubled. So he asked Pharaoh’s officers, who were with him in custody in his master’s house, “Why are your faces downcast today?” They said to him, “We have had dreams, and there is no one to interpret them.” And Joseph said to them, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Please tell them to me.”

So the chief cupbearer told his dream to Joseph, and said to him, “In my dream there was a vine before me, and on the vine there were three branches. As soon as it budded, its blossoms came out and the clusters ripened into grapes. Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand; and I took the grapes and pressed them into Pharaoh’s cup, and placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hand.” Then Joseph said to him, “This is its interpretation: the three branches are three days; within three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your office; and you shall place Pharaoh’s cup in his hand, just as you used to do when you were his cupbearer. But remember me when it is well with you; please do me the kindness to make mention of me to Pharaoh, and so get me out of this place. For in fact I was stolen out of the land of the Hebrews; and here also I have done nothing that they should have put me into the dungeon.”

AN IMAGINARY JOURNAL ARTICLE

Quote BeginDreams are the strangest things. I mean, I’m a good Egyptian servant, and I know that dreams are supposed to be messages from the gods, but couldn’t the gods make their messages easier to understand? Stuck in this prison cell, I sure could use a bit of hope and guidance. But what was I supposed to make of this dream? I was complaining to my friend, the baker, about how hard it is to understand dreams, and one of the other prisoners asked me for more details. I told him about the branches, the grapes, and pouring the wine into Pharaoh’s cup, and he said that I would be free in three days, and restored to my position of honor as Pharaoh’s cupbearer! Who would have thought that I would hear a word of hope in this god-forsaken prison? I sure hope this Joseph guy is right! He asked me to remember him when I’m released, and to tell Pharaoh about his situation. No problem! If I get out, how could I forget what Joseph did for me? Oh, man, I hope he is right about that dream… I just can’t stand it in here for much longer!Quote End
— Pharaoh’s Cupbearer

THINGS TO THINK ABOUT…

  • If you heard the cupbearer’s dream, how might you have interpreted it?
  • Joseph shows a great deal of empathy in verses 6-7. For someone who had not been able to “read” his brothers’ emotions very effectively, what do you think has prompted this change in Joseph?
  • What is Joseph implying when he asks, “Do not interpretations belong to God?” (verse 8)
  • How confident does Joseph seem in his ability to interpret the dreams? What does this say about how he feels about his relationship with God at this point in his life?
  • What do you think the cupbearer’s reaction might have been to hearing his dream interpreted?

FOLLOW-UPS

According to The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, the cupbearer was “a wine taster and trusted royal advisor in Egyptian, Israelite, Assyrian, Persian, and other Near Eastern courts.” Wikipedia (an online encyclopedia edited by its readers) states: “A cupbearer was an officer of high rank in royal courts, whose duty it was to serve the drinks at the royal table. On account of the constant fear of plots and intrigues, a person must be regarded as thoroughly trustworthy to hold this position. He must guard against poison in the king’s cup, and was sometimes required to swallow some of the wine before serving it. His confidential relations with the king often gave him a position of great influence. The position of cup bearer is greatly valued and given to only a select few throughout history.” To read the entire Wikipedia article on cupbearers, click here.


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.

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Joseph – week 1, day 6

Pentecost

TODAY’S SCRIPTURE: Genesis 39:11-23 (NLT*)

One day, however, no one else was around when he went in to do his work. She came and grabbed him by his cloak, demanding, “Come on, sleep with me!” Joseph tore himself away, but he left his cloak in her hand as he ran from the house. When she saw that she was holding his cloak and he had fled, she called out to her servants. Soon all the men came running. “Look!” she said. “My husband has brought this Hebrew slave here to make fools of us! He came into my room to rape me, but I screamed. When he heard me scream, he ran outside and got away, but he left his cloak behind with me.”She kept the cloak with her until her husband came home. Then she told him her story. “That Hebrew slave you’ve brought into our house tried to come in and fool around with me,” she said. “But when I screamed, he ran outside, leaving his cloak with me!” Potiphar was furious when he heard his wife’s story about how Joseph had treated her. So he took Joseph and threw him into the prison where the king’s prisoners were held, and there he remained. But the Lord was with Joseph in the prison and showed him his faithful love. And the Lord made Joseph a favorite with the prison warden. Before long, the warden put Joseph in charge of all the other prisoners and over everything that happened in the prison. The warden had no more worries, because Joseph took care of everything. The Lord was with him and caused everything he did to succeed.

AN IMAGINARY JOURNAL ARTICLE

Quote BeginI was just trying to make the best of a bad situation. The people who bought me from my brothers were not the nicest of individuals, and I figured that the next situation I was passed into would be just as bad. But then I was sold to Potiphar’s household. What a change! At first, I was just trying to get familiar with my new responsibilities, but they weren’t really challenging, and Potiphar kept giving me more and more to do. I had no idea that I could handle so much! My father and brothers always took care of everything for me, and I wasn’t really trusted with anything significant. Even though I was working as a slave, it was certainly much better than it could have been. And then… just as things were going well… Mrs. Potiphar. I saw her looking me up and down, and she made me very nervous. I tried to stay away from her as much as possible, but it just isn’t that big of a house. One day she cornered me. I tried to explain as best I could why this was SUCH a bad idea, but she didn’t care. I got away, but she kept trying to trap me. And she sure did trap me now! She told her husband that I tried to rape her. She had taken my coat, and used it to “prove” to Potiphar that I had been in her room. After all that I had done for Potiphar, he took her word over mine, and threw me in this prison. But even here, it has been better than I thought it would be. The warden is a nice guy, and lets me use my new-found administrative skills to help him out. I suppose it could be worse…Quote End
— Joseph

THINGS TO THINK ABOUT…

  • Do you think Potiphar’s wife was in love with Joseph?
  • When Joseph initially refused to sleep with her, why did she continue to pursue him so intently?
  • Potiphar has trusted Joseph with running his household, and he now hears that Joseph attempted to harm his wife. If you were in Potiphar’s position, how do you imagine you would react?
  • Joseph has again been betrayed, even though this time he tried to do the moral and correct thing. How do you think he felt when he entered his prison cell?
  • Joseph’s administrative skills are again put to use, this time by the warden. How do you account for this growing ability and strength in Joseph?

FOLLOW-UPS

“…prisons were known for inflicting severe hardship, especially when prisoners were chained in place or to guards. Jailers were known as men of abject cruelty. Overcrowding, darkness, psychological distress, and malnutrition characterized the incarceration experience. Most prisoners required friends or relatives to supply their food and necessities. In addition to physical and emotional distress, prison settings also brought social shame upon their inhabitants and their associates. Nevertheless, some prisoners’ conditions permitted modest freedoms, including reading, writing, and preparing defenses.”
The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, vol. 4 (Abingdon Press: Nashville, 2009, 615.)


* Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

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Joseph – week 1, day 5

Pentecost

TODAY’S SCRIPTURE: Genesis 39:1-10 (NASB*)

Now Joseph had been taken down to Egypt; and Potiphar, an Egyptian officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the bodyguard, bought him from the Ishmaelites, who had taken him down there. The Lord was with Joseph, so he became a successful man. And he was in the house of his master, the Egyptian. Now his master saw that the Lord was with him and how the Lord caused all that he did to prosper in his hand. So Joseph found favor in his sight and became his personal servant; and he made him overseer over his house, and all that he owned he put in his charge. It came about that from the time he made him overseer in his house and over all that he owned, the Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house on account of Joseph; thus the Lord’s blessing was upon all that he owned, in the house and in the field. So he left everything he owned in Joseph’s charge; and with him there he did not concern himself with anything except the food which he ate. Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance. It came about after these events that his master’s wife looked with desire at Joseph, and she said, “Lie with me.” But he refused and said to his master’s wife, “Behold, with me here, my master does not concern himself with anything in the house, and he has put all that he owns in my charge. There is no one greater in this house than I, and he has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do this great evil and sin against God?” As she spoke to Joseph day after day, he did not listen to her to lie beside her or be with her.

AN IMAGINARY JOURNAL ARTICLE

Quote BeginI seriously got a bargain with this new slave. Whatever my servants paid for him from that caravan, I got a bargain! I could tell right away that this slave was special. Most of them arrive pretty beaten up and despondent, and this one was certainly not at his best, but I could see a glint of intelligence in his eyes. I put him in charge of a few small things, just feeling him out, and he did excellently at everything I gave him. Organized, thrifty, respectful. And, if he wasn’t a slave, I would even say he was wise. But he IS a slave, so let’s just say he is smart. Every new responsibility I turned over to him, he mastered right away. It is so great to have a slave I can count on. Having him here has really freed me up. I don’t need to be so worried about managing the household, and can focus on my work. Yes, I got a bargain with this slave. And, surprisingly, even my wife agrees with this. She doesn’t usually approve of anything I do, so I’m glad she gets along so well with him. What a relief… Quote End
— Potiphar

THINGS TO THINK ABOUT…

  • Joseph has been betrayed by his own family, and has been brought a long distance to be sold into slavery. As he is transferred from the Ishmaelites to the Midianites to Potiphar’s household, how do you imagine Joseph is feeling?
  • Just a few passages ago, Joseph was gloating to his brothers about his dreams of power. Do you think those dreams would sustain Joseph during this time, or haunt him?
  • In the prior chapters, Joseph hasn’t shown much leadership ability. And yet in Potiphar’s household he almost immediately becomes a trusted servant. What do you think has changed?
  • Potiphar’s wife tries to entice Joseph to sleep with her. What are Joseph’s stated reasons for refusal?
  • How would you feel if you were in Joseph’s position, with the spouse of the boss trying to seduce you, and with your job (and life) on the line?

FOLLOW-UPS

Click here to view the painting Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife by Guido Reni (1575-1642). This painting is currently on view at The Getty Center in Los Angeles.


New American Standard Bible (NASB), Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation.

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Joseph – week 1, day 4

Pentecost

TODAY’S SCRIPTURE: Genesis 37:29-36 (NRSV*)

When Reuben returned to the pit and saw that Joseph was not in the pit, he tore his clothes. He returned to his brothers, and said, “The boy is gone; and I, where can I turn?” Then they took Joseph’s robe, slaughtered a goat, and dipped the robe in the blood. They had the long robe with sleeves taken to their father, and they said, “This we have found; see now whether it is your son’s robe or not.” He recognized it, and said, “It is my son’s robe! A wild animal has devoured him; Joseph is without doubt torn to pieces.” Then Jacob tore his garments, and put sackcloth on his loins, and mourned for his son many days. All his sons and all his daughters sought to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted, and said, “No, I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning.” Thus his father bewailed him. Meanwhile the Midianites had sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard.

AN IMAGINARY JOURNAL ARTICLE

Quote BeginThere’s just something about a youngest son. The smallest of my children, my last chance to get it right. Joseph was such a bright child, full of curiosity and enthusiasm. He reminded me so much of me as a young boy. Always getting into trouble, but fearlessly exploring and stretching the boundaries of what he knew. Joseph had some difficulties with his older brothers, but that’s just a part of being in a family. After all, my older brother Esau and I used to fight constantly, and Joseph and his brothers were no different. I remember how much attention my father paid to my older brother — how he called him his favorite — and how that made me feel. I vowed never to let that happen to my youngest boy. I admit that I did occasionally go overboard with Joseph, and that didn’t make his brothers very happy. But he brought me so much joy! Oh, but now… He’s gone… I can’t believe it. My little boy, my hope and pride. Gone. His brothers brought back his torn and bloody coat— the very coat I had made for him. People are coming from all over to comfort me. But what comfort can they offer? My little boy Joseph… the comfort of my old age… is gone forever… Quote End
— Jacob

THINGS TO THINK ABOUT…

  • What do you think of Reuben’s question to his brothers: “The boy is gone, and I, where can I turn?”
  • How would you have felt if you were in Reuben’s place?
  • There is no mention of the brothers giving Reuben an explanation for Joseph’s disappearance. They are entirely silent. Why does Reuben agree to the conspiracy?
  • What is the symbolism of the brothers’ use of the coat here?
  • What did the brothers hope to gain by ridding themselves of Joseph?
  • Did their conspiracy accomplish this goal?
  • Does Jacob’s reaction to Joseph’s alleged death surprise you? How do you imagine you would have reacted upon receiving the news?

FOLLOW-UPS

As the eldest son, Reuben was responsible for his brothers’ behavior and for their safety while they were away from their father. When Reuben returns to find Joseph gone, he “tears his clothing.” In that culture, this was a sign of deep grief and despair. Click here to read an interesting (and short) article about the Jewish practice of tearing clothing as a sign of mourning. This article is from the website of a sect of Judaism, the Chabad-Lubavitch movement.


* 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. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Joseph – week 1, day 3

Pentecost

TODAY’S SCRIPTURE: Genesis 37:18-28 (NRSV*)

They saw him from a distance, and before he came near to them, they conspired to kill him. They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; then we shall say that a wild animal has devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams.” But when Reuben heard it, he delivered him out of their hands, saying, “Let us not take his life.” Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but lay no hand on him”—that he might rescue him out of their hand and restore him to his father. So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the long robe with sleeves that he wore; and they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it.

Then they sat down to eat; and looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels carrying gum, balm, and resin, on their way to carry it down to Egypt. Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” And his brothers agreed. When some Midianite traders passed by, they drew Joseph up, lifting him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt.

AN IMAGINARY JOURNAL ARTICLE

Quote BeginI had no idea that my brothers could be so bloodthirsty. Joseph is an annoying kid, no doubt about it, but as soon as we saw him coming up over the hill they started talking about killing him! I have to admit I was shocked. Big brother Reuben stepped in to the rescue, and he talked our brothers out of killing Joseph. He convinced them to just throw Joseph down the well. I thought that might even be good for the little tattle-tale! Put a little fear in him, warn him that he shouldn’t mess with his older brothers. A good lesson for him to learn. Certainly our father wasn’t going to teach him to respect us. So when Joseph showed up, we gave him a good scare, taking away that ridiculously expensive coat that our father had given him. (He never gave ME anything half so nice.) Then we gave him a shove into the well. You should have heard the whining. What a wimp. Not like there was water in the well. He wasn’t going to drown. We’re not that mean. But then… as soon as Reuben left, the talk started back up again: “Let’s kill the boy.” I started getting nervous. Even though Simeon and Levi are older than me, I knew that I had to be the voice of reason. But I’m not an authority figure like Reuben, and it’s a good thing that caravan came by when Quote Endthey did! If they hadn’t come by, I think my brothers might really have killed him…
— Judah

THINGS TO THINK ABOUT…

  • Are you surprised by the violence of the brothers’ reaction to seeing Joseph approaching?
  • Do you think the brothers really wanted to kill Joseph, or were they exaggerating out of anger?
  • What is the symbolism of the brothers taking away the coat that Jacob had given to Joseph?
  • Do you think that Reuben believed he had convinced the brothers not to kill Joseph?
  • How do you think Joseph felt when he was down in the well?
  • Do you think that Joseph believed that his brothers would do him real harm?
  • Ironically, the brothers’ selling Joseph into slavery will make it possible for his earlier dreams to eventually become reality. What do you think the brothers would have done if they understood this?
  • How do you think Joseph felt when he realized that his brothers really were betraying him, that this was not just a cruel practical joke?
  • If you were on the caravan, and you came upon this dysfunctional family, what would you have thought of their decision to sell off their youngest brother?

FOLLOW-UPS

“No individual in this story emerges innocent. Even Joseph, though certainly the primary victim, furnishes fuel for his own troubles. Everyone in his own way contributes to the mess in which the family finds itself; at the same time, to level out the sins of the characters and to make everyone equally irresponsible is to fail to consider issues of communal consequence. Or to turn God into an all-determining power undermines human responsibility for sin and encourages human passivity in the face of the power of evil.” (The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. I, Abingdon Press: Nashville, 1994, page 601.)


* 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. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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