Jacob’s Story: Part 2, Genesis 38,39

This entry is part 2 of 6 in the series Jacob's Story

What they intended for evil, the LORD intended for good… for the saving of many lives. -Gen. 50:20

Last time I hinted at the similarities between the life of my son Joseph and the life of the Messiah. These similarities are so numerous and so remarkable that some Christians in your day claim to have found over 100 of them. Hindsight is always 20/20 after all. But even before the earthly appearance of our Lord Jesus, the parallels were noticed.

Old Testament scholars, studying Messianic prophecies hundreds of years before the fact concluded that they fell into two categories; 1) suffering servant, and 2) conquering king. The Messianic portraits painted by these two categories of prophecies were so different that in the generation just before the Lord appeared a group of scholars headquartered in Qumran, near the Dead Sea, actually hypothesized that there were two messiahs, not one. The Essenes, as they were called, named these two Messiah ben Joseph (son of Joseph) for the suffering servant, and Messiah ben David (after King David) for the conquering king. My son Joseph was chosen as the prototype for the first messiah solely because of the remarkable similarities between his life and the first group of prophecies. So this wasn’t just some New Testament idea.

In fact this idea became so prevalent that just before his death John the Baptist, who had spent time with the Essenes, sent messengers to inquire of Jesus, “Are you the one who was to come or should we expect another? ( Matt 11:3 ) In your language the intent of the question is masked, but in Greek it’s very clear. “Are you the only messiah or should we also expect another, different from you?”

Of course John knew that Jesus was the one and only Messiah. By his question, he was trying to put the two-messiah hypothesis to naught. Jesus answered by pointing to prophecies He had fulfilled that are specifically predicted in a passage of Isaiah ( Chapter 61 ) that spans both categories. He is the One and Only.

When our story concluded last time, Joseph had been rejected and betrayed by his brothers, cast into a pit, sold as a slave into Egypt, and reported to me as dead.
To spotlight the difference between Joseph and the others, I must tell you of an incident between Judah and Tamar that we’ll compare with a similar situation concerning Joseph and the wife of his Egyptian master, Potifar.

Judah left the family for a time and married a Canaanite woman who bore him 3 sons. As the oldest, Er, matured, Judah got a wife for him, a woman named Tamar. But Er offended the LORD, resulting in his death and leaving Tamar a childless widow.

In our time, when a man died without an heir, it was the responsibility of the dead man’s brother to have a child with the widow. The first son they produced would become the dead brother’s heir and in this way his estate was protected. This remedy was called the Law of Leverite Marriage and would later be documented by Moses in Deuteronomy 25:5-6 .

So Judah’s second son, Onan, was given the responsibility of helping Tamar produce an heir. But he was also wicked and kept preventing her from becoming pregnant in a shameful attempt to prolong the assignment. So the LORD caused his death as well.

Judah’s third son Shelah was too young, but Judah persuaded Tamar go back to her father’s home and wait so she could marry Shelah when he came of age. You understand that in our day a widow had no standing and was not a desired mate, so the only way for her to protect her interest and support herself was to produce a legitimate heir who would look after her. That’s why she agreed, even though being sent back to her father’s home was an even bigger disgrace than going childless. But when young Shelah grew up, Judah didn’t follow through on his promise to Tamar, leaving her in limbo once again.

In the mean time Judah’s wife had died, and when Tamar learned he was going away on a business trip, she ran ahead, dressed herself as a prostitute and with a veiled face stood at the side the road where he would be passing. Seeing her there but not knowing it was Tamar, Judah hired her for sex, leaving his seal and staff as a pledge for the payment they had agreed upon.

When it was discovered that Tamar was pregnant, Judah was outraged and sent for her to have her executed. That was the penalty for illicit sex in those days. Demanding the name of her lover to have him executed as well, Judah was shocked to say the least when she produced his seal and staff. (Since Judah had been unable to find the “prostitute” to exchange the pledge for the payment, he hadn’t been able to retrieve them.)

“The man who owns these made me pregnant,” she said, and Judah finally realized he’d failed to keep his promise to her. To his credit, he accepted the blame, pronounced her innocent and didn’t sleep with her again. And so Tamar finally got her heir, preserving the estate of her dead husband and securing her own future, though it took years and she had to trick Judah into keeping his end of the bargain.

In the mean time, a man named Potifar, Captain of Pharaoh’s guard, had purchased Joseph from the Midianites at the Egyptian slave market. Over time Joseph proved himself reliable and trustworthy, so Potifar put him in charge of all his household affairs. Now Potifar’s wife was attracted to Joseph and began trying to seduce him. Time after time, Joseph refused, pleading with her that it would be a violation of the trust his master had shown him and a sin against God. After one particularly intense incident, Joseph ran from the house leaving his cloak behind.

Well as they say, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” Potifar’s wife ran to tell him that Joseph had tried to force himself upon her, using the cloak as evidence. Enraged, Potifar had Joseph thrown into jail.

And so my beloved son, having been rejected and betrayed by his brothers, cast into a pit, sold as a slave into Egypt, and reported to me as dead, has now been falsely accused and wrongly convicted.

I hope this contrast between Judah and Joseph gives you some insight into the difference in their characters. Put that together with the sad tales my dad already told you about Reuben, Levi, and Simeon (see Isaac’s Story) and you’ll soon see why Joseph was my favorite. And it wasn’t just me. Of all the men mentioned in the Bible, some flaw eventually surfaces in the character of all but two. Only Daniel and my son Joseph emerge with a 100% clean bill of health from the LORD’s perspective. That doesn’t mean they were sinless. They were human after all. But maybe it explains why these two men were chosen to play such remarkable roles in advancing the LORD’s agenda among the Gentiles.

Next time I’ll tell you about Joseph’s prison years and his miraculous rise to fame and fortune. See you then.