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OT Lesson 12 Study Notes: Genesis 40-45

Posted by Jim F. on March 16, 2010

Genesis 40

Verse 1: How long do you think “after these things” might represent, a long time or a short time? Why do you think we hear nothing further about Potiphar’s wife and what became of her?

Verse 2:

Note that “butler” is probably better translated “cup bearer,” and “baker” is probably better translated “royal scribe.”

These are important palace officials. Does that suggest anything about the prison director’s thoughts about Joseph? Why doesn’t the writer tell us anything about how they have made the Pharaoh angry? Are we supposed to see a parallel between the servants of Pharaoh who (literally) “sinned against their master” and Joseph who has refused to do so because it would be a sin against God (Genesis 39:9)? What do you make of the fact that in chapter 39 (22), Joseph was put in charge of all of the prisoners, but here he must wait on two of them? Has his status changed or does this say something about these two prisoners?

Verse 3: In whose prison is Joseph? Why is Potiphar’s name absent, but his title used?

Verse 5: The Egyptians believed that “sleep puts us in real and direct contact with the other world where not only the dead but also the gods dwell” (Vergote, Joseph én Égypte 48). How is this relevant to the butler’s, baker’s, and Pharaoh’s dreams? How does this explain their sadness or frustration (verse 6)? Why does verse 5 remind us that these men are in prison?

Verse 8: In response to the baker and the butler’s sadness at not having an interpretation of their dreams, Joseph asks, “Do not interpretations belong to God?” How does that compare to his response to his own dreams in Genesis 37:5-10? What does this tell us about Joseph?

Verse 15:

The word “dungeon” translates the same Hebrew word translated “pit” in 37:22, 24-25, and 29.

What are the parallels between the story of chapter 37 and the story of chapters 39 and 40? What do those parallels show?

Verse 16: What is the baker’s motivation for asking for an interpretation of his dream?

Verse 23: Do you think the butler forgot—indeed, “did not remember . . . but forgat”—Joseph after only three days?


Why would the butler and the baker have had any confidence in Joseph’s interpretation of their dreams? From this chapter, what do we see about life under the Pharaoh? Why did the Lord have Joseph interpret two dreams, especially when one was anything but good news? Notice the skillful use of language in this story: Pharaoh will lift the head of the butler (deal kindly with him—verse 13) and he will also lift the head of the baker (have him killed—verse 19). And this occurs in a story about a person, Joseph, who has been cast down (twice) and whose head will be lifted by God. The phrase “lift the head” can be seen as a summary of this part of the story and a foreboding of what is to come: if we didn’t already know the end of the story, we might well wonder, “In which way is Joseph’s head going to be lifted?” Treating this chapter as a story in itself, what does it suggest about hope? How did Joseph probably feel at the end? How is this experience of waiting for what will apparently not come to pass like that of previous patriarchs? Did Jesus later have experiences like that? Other prophets? So what?

Genesis 41

Verse 1: What does the phrase “two full years” tell us?

Verses 1-8: Why do the cows come up out of the river? Of what significance was the Nile river to the Egyptians? What did the number seven mean in Egypt? What did cows signify in Egypt? They were used more for plowing than for eating by the Egyptians as well as by the Hebrews, so they probably do not represent food themselves. How are the cows connected to the corn (grain) of the second dream? Pharaoh says that no one can interpret his dream, suggesting that some have tried or that some have been asked to and said they could not. (See also verses 15 and 24.) How would Pharaoh been able to tell whether an interpretation by one of his magicians was accurate?

Verse 9: What faults is the butler remembering? Why does he begin his story this way? Why not just tell the story rather than mention his faults? Why do you think he remembers Joseph at this point rather than earlier? How will doing so benefit him?

Verses 10-13: Many interpreters believe that “a young man, an Hebrew, servant to the captain of the guard” is disparaging, intended to show Joseph as insignificant? Why would the butler do that? What is the effect of having two different dreams interpreted, one positively and one negatively? Does that establish Joseph’s credibility? How so?

Verse 14: Of what significance is it that they called Joseph from the prison hastily? Is there a contrast here between the two years he waited (verse 1 of this chapter) and his summons before the Pharaoh? If so, what is that contrast for? what does it do? Hebrews were usually full-bearded and Egyptians were clean shaven. Why does Joseph shave? Why does the narrator think it important for us to know that Joseph shaved and changed his clothing?

Verse 16: Notice the similarity of Joseph’s reply to the Pharaoh and his reply to the butler and baker. Is Joseph’s reply somewhat confrontational, considering that he is speaking with the Pharaoh? If so, what might that tell us about him? How does Joseph know, before even hearing the dream, that the answer that Pharaoh will receive will bring him peace?

Verses 25-36: Notice the structure of Joseph’s reply to the Pharaoh: In verses 25-27, he gives Pharaoh the key to interpreting his dream: cows = years and ears of corn = years. He explains that the two dreams have the same meaning. In verses 28-31, Joseph explains the meaning of the symbols as they relate to each other. Why does the emphasis fall on the famine rather than on the good years? In verses 32-36, he gives the Pharaoh advice about what he should do to deal with the predicted famine. Notice also that each of the three parts of his response begins with an introductory sentence: “the dream is one” (verse 26), “What God is about to do, he showeth to Pharaoh” (verse 28), and “the thing is established by God, and God will shortly bring it to pass” (32). What is the point of these introductory verses? How did Joseph, a slave recently retrieved from prison, have the temerity to give the Pharaoh advice about how to respond to the predicted famine? He was only asked to interpret the dream, but he goes much further than offering an interpretation.

When Joseph speaks of God, he uses the term ha elohim, “the God.” When Pharaoh speaks of God, he uses the same term but without the article: simply “God.” Why that difference?

Verses 26-31: Why does Joseph describe the bad cows and ears, but not the good ones? Similarly, why does he give us one sentence about the years of plenty, but five about the years of famine?

Verse 36:

In Leviticus and Numbers the verb translated “perish” means is used when speaking of being cut off from Israel. It has been used twice before in Genesis, in Genesis 9:11 and Genesis 17:14. Why does Moses use that particular verb here?

Verse 37: Why did the Pharaoh see Joseph’s interpretation as good?

Verse 38: What is the Pharaoh asking his servants when he asks, “Can we find such a one as this is, a man in whom the Spirit of God is?”

Verses 39-41: Joseph has now been in three houses in Egypt: Potiphar’s house, the prison house, and Pharaoh’s house. Are there parallels between the things that happen to him in each of these? In verse 40, the Pharaoh tells Joseph that he will be in charge of everything, except what? Does the writer intend us to see a parallel with his situation in Potiphar’s house? In verse 41, he says, “See, I have set thee over all the land of Egypt.” Why the redundancy?

Verse 42: Are we supposed to see any connections between the clothing that Joseph receives here and the clothing he has had before, such as the “coat of many colors”?

Verse 45: Is there any problem with Joseph taking an Egyptian wife? If so, what evidence is there for the problem? If not, why not, given Isaac’s fear that his son would not marry within the family? What does Joseph’s assumption of an Egyptian name and an Egyptian wife tell us about what is happening? (Notice that in verse 55, though the Pharoah has given Joseph an Egyptian name, he refers to him by his Hebrew name.)

Verse 51: Joseph names his son Manasseh, meaning “forgetting,” “For God, sad he, hath made me forget all my toil, and all my father’s house.” We can easily understand why Joseph would celebrate the birth of his son by naming his son in gratitude for forgetting the labor he has performed as a slave, but why would he also give thanks for forgetting his family? What is the significance of naming his second son “Fruitful”? Does he intend more by that name than that he will have descendants through him?

Genesis 42

 Verse 1: Why does Jacob reemerge as an important character in the story? What does his reproach, “Why do ye look one to another?” (in other words, “Why are you standing around staring at one another?”) tell us?

Verse 4: Does Jacob continue to treat the sons of Rachel differently than his other sons? What evidence in the story is there of how Benjamin’s brothers responded to his special status? What are we supposed to conclude from that?

Verse 9: Of what significance is it that Joseph remembers his dreams about his brothers (chapter 37) rather than that they had sold him into slavery? Why does he accuse them of being spies? Why does he keep repeating that accusation (see also verses 12, 14, 15, and 20)? The verse explains the accusation by referring to the dreams. How do they explain his accusation? Do the dreams he had explain the demand he makes of them to bring his younger brother?

Verse 11: How is it relevant that they are all the sons of the same man? Is the fact that Joseph is also the son of Jacob, their father, important to understanding what Moses wants us to see here?

Verse 13: Why do the brothers offer this unsolicited information about the family? What result does it have?

Verses 14-16: Is Joseph giving his brothers “pay back” by imprisoning them? Though the Talmud (the interpretation of the first five books of the Bible, the Torah) was written much later than Genesis, it gives us an idea of how the Jewish tradition has understood repentance and so a hint at how Old Testament people might have understood it. According to the Talmud, a person has repented if he faces exactly the same temptation and has as much power to succumb as he did when he sinned, but he abstains. Given this understanding, how does Joseph’s proposal test the repentance of his brothers?

Verse 17: Why does Joseph has his brothers imprisoned?

Verses 18-24: What are these verses designed to show us?

Verse 19: Compare Job 29:12-13 and Proverbs 31:20. What point is Moses making in this verse?

Verse 20: Joseph’s promise is that if they return with Benjamin they, rather than the brother left behind, will not die. We would expect him to threaten to kill the captive brother if they don’t return. Why does he make this unusual threat?

Verse 21: We learn here something we did not see in chapter 37: Joseph pled with his brothers when they threw him into the pit. Why did Moses keep that information back until now—or is Joseph’s memory adding details that may not have happened?

Verse 24: Why do you think Joseph weeps? Why do you think Joseph had Simeon bound rather than one of the other brothers?

Verse 27-28: What do the brothers think when they discover the money in their sacks? Various motives have been offered for Joseph putting the money in their sacks: it was an act of brotherly kindness to show them that they were guests; it was, as they believed, to make them look like thieves; it was an imitation of the earlier situation in which they were willing to exchange Joseph for money—if they get money, will they abandon Simeon?

Verses 30-34: Which parts of what happened to them do they leave out when they tell their story to Jacob? Why?

Verse 37: How is Reuben’s offer related to what Jacob has suffered?

Verses 36-38: What is Jacob’s response to the problem? Is he willing to send Benjamin to Egypt in order to ransom Simeon? What does that tell us? What did it say to Jacob’s other sons? (Notice that he says “My son shall not go down with you, suggesting obliquely that they are not his sons.)

Genesis 43

Some have argued that this chapter and chapter 42 may be arranged in chiasms, and that the chiasms of the two chapters echo one another. (See Word Biblical Commentary 2:318-419.) Why might the writer have written the chapters in that way?

Verse 2: Why does Jacob tell them “”Go again, buy us a little food”?

Verse 3: Why does Judah, rather than Reuben, the oldest, make the argument to take Benjamin to Egypt? See Genesis 42:37-38 and 35:22

Verse 6: How should we understand Jacob’s complaint in this verse?

Verses 8-10: What is different in Judah’s plea this time? What changes Israel’s mind about allowing his sons to return to Egypt with Benjamin?

Verse 9: When Judah says, “let me bear the blame forever,” what is he offering his father? What does it mean to offer to bear the blame? Why isn’t this an empty offer?

Verse 14: Why does Jacob refer to Simeon as “your other brother” rather than use his name?

In Hebrew, the construction is unusual. Literally, it says “your brother another one” rather than “your other brother,” as if to emphasize that Jacob doesn’t use Simeon’s name.

Compare Jacob’s prayer here to that in Genesis 32:9-12.

Verse 18: They are afraid that they will be taken as slaves and that their asses will be taken from them. What does their concern for their asses suggest about their wealth? Does that help us understand anything about the story of their encounter with Joseph?

Verses 20-24: What are we supposed to see in this scene? Joseph knows that his servants put the money in their sacks at his command. Why does he say “Your God, and the God of your father, hath given you treasure in your sacks” (verse 23)? Is he lying? If not, what point is Moses making?

Verse 29: This is the first time that a relation between Joseph and his brothers has been mentioned in this part of the story. Previously the text has referred to “them” and “the men,” but not said anything about brothers. Why is “brother” and “mother’s son” introduced here?

Verses 31-32: Does Moses intend a contrast between this meal and that in Genesis 37:25?

Verses 33: Why does Joseph seat them in order of seniority, surprising them?

Genesis 44

Verse 2: Why do you think Joseph has the servant put his silver cup in Benjamin’s sack rather than in one of the other brother’s sacks?

Verses 1-10: What is the point of Joseph’s test?

Verse 14: I’m fairly sure that this is the first time in the story that we are told that all of the brothers have fallen down before Joseph. Here we see the fulfilment of the dream of Genesis 37:6-7. How has Joseph changed since then? How have the brothers changed? How has Jacob changed? What brought about that change?

Verse 16: To whom is Judah referring when he asks, “What shall we say unto my lord?” To Joseph, whom they stand before? To Jacob, to whom they must explain what has happened? To God?

Verses 18-34: This speech by Judah is the longest speech in Genesis. It has three parts: a description of what has happened (verses 19-29), a description of the effects of what has happened (verses 30-32), and the proposal of an alternative to keeping Benjamin as a slave (verses 32-33). Since Joseph already knows what has happened to them, why does Judah repeat the story to him? Why did Judah omit the accusation of spying from his story? Is it significant that Judah stands as surety for the brothers’ return? How so? Judah uses the word “father” 14 times in his speech. What effect does he hope it will have? What effect does it have? What do we see of Judah’s character in this speech? How does that compare to what we saw of him in chapters 37 and 38?

Genesis 45

Verses 1-2: What finally moves Joseph to tears that he cannot control? (This is the third time that Joseph weeps—see Genesis 42:24 and 43:30—but it is the first time he weeps openly.) What are we to make of the fact that not only those in Joseph’s house, but also those in Pharaoh’s house and “the Egyptians” heard him weeping?

Verse 3: Joseph says “I am Joseph.” Then without a break he asks “Is my father still alive?” What does this tell us?

Verse 4: Is Joseph still speaking through an interpreter, or has he switched to Hebrew? How are they likely to react to “your brother, whom ye sold into Egypt”?

Verses 4, 5, 7: Notice that in verse 4 Joseph speaks of being sold into Egypt, but in verses 5, 7, and 8 he speaks of being sent into Egypt. What does that change in the verb tell us? What way of thinking is behind that change? Compare these to the sending mentioned in Genesis 37:13-14. What does this suggest about our intentions and purposes, about our goals and plans?

Verses 14-15: What has changed that makes this reunion possible? What has Joseph learned? Given what his brothers did to him, how can Joseph no longer be angry at them? Of what significance is it that at this point we learn “and after that his brethren talked with him”? Hadn’t they talked with him before?

Overall for this lesson

The story of Joseph is the longest story in Genesis, longer than the story of creation, the story of Adam and Eve, the story of the flood, the story of Abraham, . . . . Why? In spite of the importance of the story of Joseph to the book of Genesis, he is rarely mentioned in the Bible after Genesis. Why not?

In Genesis 15:13-14 the Lord told Abraham that the children of Israel would be strangers in a land that is not theirs for 400 years. This story shows us the fulfillment of that prophesy. Why do you think the Lord planned to send Israel into Egypt and then into captivity in Egypt?

Why is Egypt a common symbol in the scriptures? For what does it stand?

One interpreter (Nehama Leibowitz) claims that Joseph is the only one of the tribes described as tzadik, “righteous,” but she doesn’t give a source for her claim and I couldn’t find it. However, assuming that she is right, why would that be? What in the story of Joseph demonstrates his righteousness?

The birthright is Joseph’s (1 Chronicles 5:2). Given that the Savior was born through the lineage of Judah (Matthew 1 and Luke 3), what is the significance of having the birthright? Why didn’t the Messiah come through the lineage of the birthright?

The connection between Joseph of old and the latter-day prophet, Joseph, is obvious. (See, for example, 2 Nephi 3.) What kinds of parallels can you see between the two Josephs? Why do you think those parallels are there? What do they teach us?

Many have seen parallels between the story of Joseph and the life of Christ. They see Joseph as a figure of Christ. That Joseph is a savior of Israel is obvious. Can you think of any other parallels between Joseph and Christ? What is the point of such parallels? Why do the scriptures use types and shadows—figural language?

9 Responses to “OT Lesson 12 Study Notes: Genesis 40-45”

  1. […] to this post should be made at Feast Upon the Word. 0 people like this […]

  2. Jim, just dropping by to let you know I’m a big fan. :) Read your Tools for Scripture Study years ago and still go back to it. I’m a perm over on T&S and always enjoy your scripture commentary.

  3. kirkcaudle said

    I do not really have much insight to give to this lesson. Much of what I thoughts are pretty basic when it comes to these chapters. However, the Joseph story is one of my favorites. It is one of the few stories in the scriptures that moves me every time I read it.

  4. reed russell said

    I’ve been enjoying the insights from _The Jewish Study Bible_. Here’s just a few from this week’s lesson:

    Ch. 40

    – Second pair of 3 pairs of dreams that are pivotal in Joseph’s life.
    – vs. 19 translation: “impale you upon a pole.”

    Ch. 41

    – Last of the 3 pairs of dreams.
    – This third pair mirrors the first pair in that both meant the same thing and dealt with the triumph of the weak over the strong.
    – This third pair mirrors the second pair in that each of these 2 dreams deal with good fortune and ill – in that order.
    – vs. 14 – Hebrew word for “dungeon” is the same word for “pit” in 37: 20, 22, 24, 28.

    Ch. 42

    – vs. 6 – Their prostration fulfills the dreams of 37: 5-11.
    – vs. 11 – The first clause is truer than the “we” brothers realize.
    – vs. 24 – As Leah’s second son, Simeon is the appropriate hostage for Rachel’s second son.
    – vs. 25 – Joseph’s returning the silver deftly symbolizes the whole chapter: The brothers are getting what they gave.
    – vs. 34 – “restore your brother” refers to both Simeon and Joseph.

    Ch. 43

    – vs. 33-34 – This meal is a poignant contrast with the meal to which the brothers sat down after throwing Joseph into the pit. (37: 25)

    Ch. 44

    – Test. Will the brothers jettison Benjamin the way they did Joseph when his presence becomes an inconvenience? Or have they learned their lesson?

  5. kirkcaudle said

    Those are great Reed. Thanks!

  6. Hey Jim and readers,
    A question came to my mind in SS this morning that went beyond the scope of what the teacher was trying to cover, but I thought some of you might be able to help me with it. I was noticing the rich symbolism of Christ’s resurrection and death that occurs in the dreams of the chief butler and baker: vines, wine, cup, lifted up, bread, death on a tree, etc. It’s so obvious once you notice it that it seems that it is placed there for some purpose. I think I’ve missed it in the past because I’m so focused on the fact that Joseph is a type of Christ. But here he almost seems to represent humankind….maybe….
    With the baker symbolizing the death and the butler symbolizing the resurrection of Christ, and having the power to redeem Joseph from prison with a mention to Pharoah, I’m thinking there’s a lesson there that I can almost but not quite see. Can anyone help me unpack this further?

  7. That is a number of inspirational stuff. By no means knew that opinions could be that varied. Thanks for all the enthusiasm to offer such helpful information here.

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