The Journey of Joseph: The Literary Context of Joseph’s Life.

“Jacob lived in the land of his father’s sojournings, in the land of Canaan. These are the generations of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was pasturing the flock with his brothers. He was a boy with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives. And Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father. Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his sons, because he was the son of his old age. And he made him a robe of many colors. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him.” (Genesis 37:1–4 (ESV)

The journey of Joseph is a unique literary unit in the Book of Genesis. The fact that there are repeated elements in the story of Joseph’s life does not prove that Moses was not the author (Exodus 24:1-4; Matthew 19;1-10; Mark 12:26). Repetition is the mark of Hebrew literary style. Repetition serves to heighten the message, giving it a strong emphasis.

Dr. John Walvoord explains that, “One example of repetition is the analogy between the Jacob and Joseph stories. Both cycles of narratives begin with the father being deceived and the brothers being treacherous (chaps. 27; 37). Both cycles include a 20-year period of separation, with the younger brother in a foreign land. (For Jacob see Gen. 31:38. As for Joseph, he was 13 years in Potiphar’s house and in prison—from age 17 [37:2] to age 30 [41:46]—and after 7 years of abundance his brothers came to Egypt, 41:53–54; 42:1–2.) Both conclude with a reunion and reconciliation of the brothers (33:1–15; 45:1–15). As God had worked out matters to a proper resolution with Jacob, He would do the same with his son Joseph.”

The journey of Joseph stories were instructive for ancient Israel, and also for believers today. As Joseph spent years in bondage in Egypt before God delivered him, so the descendants of Jacob would also be in bondage in Egypt until the LORD delivered a nation of over 1 million. For Joseph, his difficulties would test his faith. For Israel, their stay in Egypt would be for their preservation and discipline.

Dr. Walvoord continues by explaining that, “In the record of Joseph’s life are several cycles of events: three sets of dreams, four sets of parallel relationships (Joseph and his family, Joseph and Potiphar’s household, Joseph and the prisoners, Joseph and Pharaoh’s household), two episodes in a pit-prison that involve false accusations and the use of his clothing for proof, and repeated visits to Egypt by his brothers. These cycles form the structure of the ṯôleḏôṯ (“account”) of Jacob (37:2).

The stories of Jacob and Joseph differ in tone from the preceding material in Genesis. It is in the Joseph narratives that Moses’ writing seems to be closely related to the wisdom literature of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. This includes Moses’ editorial comments and the major point that Joseph was a wise ruler (Gen. 41:39).

Dr. Walvoord concludes by saying, “The theme of suffering as a test of character is predominant, both for Joseph and his brothers. Though Joseph was righteous he was not kept from suffering. He was preserved by his faith through it. In the end Joseph could acknowledge that God meant it all for good ( Gen. 50:20). The Bible’s wisdom literature assures the faithful that God brings good out of evil and suffering. Though the wicked may prosper for a time, the righteous hold fast to their integrity because there is a higher, more enduring principle of life (cf. the Book of Job). The wise recognize that the Lord God is sovereign over nature and the nations, and that He righteously orders the affairs of His people. At times, God’s ways seem unfair and paradoxical, but if endured by faith they bring blessings to the righteous.”

Soli deo Gloria!

2 Replies to “The Journey of Joseph: The Literary Context of Joseph’s Life.”

  1. Thank you Pastor Tom, again and again you point us in the right direction. His love comes from above that’s the direction everything comes from above


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