Joseph is one of the Bible’s most famous characters, and in the Genesis scroll, his story is a climactic moment in the theme of exile that spans the whole book. In this episode, Tim and Jon dive into the fourth and final movement of Genesis, a narrative rich with patterns, repeated words, and the presence of God even in the pit.
Biblical stories offer the most realistic and raw portrait of human behavior … When Adam and Eve are exiled, God informs them of the consequences of their behavior. The seed of the snake will be at odds with the seed of the woman. There will be people aligned with God’s purposes and hostile to God’s purposes. It will be an endless battle! This story is part of that. The irony is Jacob thinks a wild animal has eaten his son, and in a way, that’s true. It’s just that the animals are his children.
In part one (00:00-11:30), Tim and Jon begin discussing the final movement of the Genesis scroll, which centers around the life of Joseph.
The original scrolls that form what we now call the Bible weren’t broken up by chapters and verses, but by movements—larger sections of the biblical storyline distinguishable by themes, literary patterns, and repeated words and phrases. The Genesis scroll is made up of four movements.
In each movement, we meet people who replay the calling and failure of the first two humans in the Bible, Adam and Eve. In turn, a motif emerges as one movement rolls into the next: children repeat the patterns of their parents. The final movement of Genesis is no different, as we meet the 12 sons of Jacob/Israel who mimic all the best and worst parts of their father’s character.
In this movement, we’re tracing the theme of exile. Exile is an important theme within the Genesis scroll, but it takes a prominent place in Joseph’s story.
In part two (11:30-24:45), the guys dive into the opening verses of the fourth movement of Genesis, which begins in Genesis 37:2. As the narrative shifts its focus from Jacob to his sons, we expect to meet his firstborn, but instead we are introduced to the youngest son (at that time), Joseph.
All of Jacob’s sons are shepherds; this is a hyperlink to other shepherds we’ve met in Genesis already. Jacob himself was a shepherd, and his success as a shepherd divided him from his uncle Laban. Abraham was a shepherd, and he and Lot were also divided because of their flocks. Cain was a shepherd, and his role alienated him from his brother Abel.
Joseph is alienated from his own brothers because he is his father’s favorite. This favoritism recalls the favoritism of Abraham toward Isaac and of Isaac toward Esau (and of Rebekah for Jacob himself). One of the first things we learn about Joseph is that he has dreams of reigning over his brothers. This sets him only further at odds with his siblings. In fact, we’ve barely begun reading the Joseph narrative before his brothers devise a plot to sell him into slavery in Egypt. The author carefully chooses his words in this section, employing phrases designed to call to mind Adam and Eve’s sin in Genesis 3, Cain’s murder of Abel in Genesis 4, and the wickedness of Noah’s generation in Genesis 6.
In part three (24:45-41:51), Tim and Jon examine an important part of the exile theme in Genesis: “going down” to Egypt.
Then they sat down to eat a meal. And as they raised their eyes and looked, behold, a caravan of Ishmaelites was coming from Gilead, with their camels bearing aromatic gum and balm and myrrh, on their way to bring them down to Egypt.
After Joseph’s brothers throw him in a pit, they eat a meal and encounter descendants of their grandfather’s firstborn son, Ishmael. Joseph is sinking to new lows, both figuratively and literally. He’s gone from having dreams of being exalted into the heavens to being thrown into a pit, and soon he will be taken down to Egypt. The imagery of descent is a picture of exile––exile from his home, his family, his father’s love, his wealth, his dreams, and the promised land.
In Genesis 37:31-36, Joseph’s brothers deceive Jacob about his son’s whereabouts by covering Joseph’s robe in goat blood and pretending he was killed. In a sad, ironic twist, Jacob is deceived by a garment representing his beloved son—not unlike the garments he used to deceive his own father. In his grief, Jacob experiences his own kind of exile.
Then all his sons and all his daughters arose to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. And he said, “Surely I will go down to Sheol in mourning for my son.” So his father wept for him.
Exile is a kind of death, and death is an exile.
As the story of Joseph continues, he will make more descents (e.g., into slavery and human trafficking, from Potiphar’s house into prison), and then God will exalt him and raise him up. His story is about a return from exile. In the midst of the pit, “the Lord was with him, and whatever he did, the Lord made to prosper” (Gen. 39:23).
Show produced by Cooper Peltz. Edited by Dan Gummel and Zach McKinley. Show notes by Lindsey Ponder.
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