Pharaoh’s dreams

A couple of years passed, and Pharaoh had a dream. He was standing on the bank of the Nile when suddenly seven of the most well-fed cows came up out of the water and started munching on the reeds. Then, seven more cows, wretched and famished, came up for air and swallowed up the pretty cows. Pharaoh woke up and turned over in his bed.

Falling asleep again, he dreamed of seven fat ears of grain growing on a single stalk. Then, seven wind-blasted and small ears sprouted up and choked out the quality shoots. Pharaoh woke up again, troubled by all he’d seen in the night.

He recounted these disturbing images to every Egyptian magician in the vicinity, but no one knew how to interpret them. Then he called for every “wise man” and seer in the district. Again, he told them his dreams, but no one offered an answer to their meaning.

Then the chief cupbearer spoke up. “How could I be so stupid?” he asked, giving his forehead a sound palm slap. “When the baker and I went to prison, we both had dreams during the same night. A young Hebrew, he interpreted our dreams correctly, for he foretold of my vindication and the baker’s demise.

“You’re right to ask the question,” Pharaoh said. “How could you be so stupid?” Then he turned to a servant guarding the hall entrance. “Bring me the Hebrew at once!”

Joseph shaved his head, changed his clothes, and presented himself low to the ground before the ruler of all Egypt.

“I’m told you’re an interpreter of dreams,” he said to the thirty-year-old prisoner.

Joseph lifted his head and answered, “I don’t interpret them, but God will give the answers you seek.”

“Whatever,” Pharaoh said, skeptical of the Hebrew holy roller. “Look, I was standing by the Nile, and seven fat cows came up to feed on the grass. Then seven skinny cows came after them and swallowed up the fat cows. The seven skinny cows were still skinny. In my second dream, I saw seven fat ears of grain on one stalk. Then, seven withered ears came up and choked out the healthy ones. The magi were unable to give me an answer. What say you?”

“Is that all?” Joseph asked.

“Indeed.”

“They’re both the same dream,” Joseph said. “God has revealed to you what He’s about to do.”

Pharaoh wasn’t any closer to divining the meaning of his dreams. “Perhaps you would be so kind as to tell me what God has so clearly revealed to me.”

“Lord,” Joseph continued, “The seven fat cows and the seven fat ears are seven years of harvest. The seven skinny cows and the seven thin ears are seven years of famine. Like I said, God has given you the meaning of your dream.”

“Indulge me,” Pharaoh said, impatiently. “Are you giving me the weather forecast for the next fourteen years?”

“Precisely, Lord,” Joseph said, standing to his feet. “And as sure as the god of Egypt has dreamed it, it will come to pass.”

Pharaoh scratched his goatee. “Anything else?”

Joseph bowed. “If it pleases my Lord, let Pharaoh put an expert in charge of agriculture. Elect district managers to collect one-fifth of the land’s produce for the next seven years. Store up grain reserves in every city, under your authority, of course. When the famine comes, you’ll be a hero.”

By the time Joseph finished what he had to say, his face was perceptibly radiant. The guards approached to escort him from Pharaoh’s presence.

“Wait,” Pharaoh said. “Is there any other like him? This man hosts the spirit of God Himself.”

Inspiration: Genesis 41

Interpreting dreams

Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker were thrown into the prison where Joseph carried out his duties. Potiphar put Joseph in charge of their well-being while confined below his house.

One night, both incarcerated officers had disturbing dreams. When they woke up the next morning, Joseph could see they were sorely vexed. “Why do you look so troubled?” Joseph asked them during breakfast.

“We both had dreams last night,” the cupbearer said. The baker added, “But we have no one to interpret them.”

Joseph answered, “Doesn’t all meaning come from God? Tell me your dreams.”

The cupbearer shot an apprehensive glance to the baker and then unfolded his dream to Joseph.

“I saw a vine,” the cupbearer began, “with three branches on it. The vine bloomed and bore clusters of plump, luscious grapes. I took and squeezed the juice of the grapes into Pharaoh’s cup and presented it to him.”

Joseph said, “The three branches are three days in which time Pharaoh will restore your position as cupbearer. When you’ve settled into your rightful place, I pray you to mention me to Pharaoh so I can get out of this place. I was stolen from my Hebrew lands, and now I’m wrongfully imprisoned underneath the captain of the guard’s house.”

The baker’s countenance changed when he heard the favorable interpretation of the cupbearer’s dream. “I dreamed there were three baskets stacked on my head,” he said, looking hopeful and eager. “In the top basket, an assortment of baked goods were being devoured by birds.”

Joseph said, “The three baskets are three days in which time Pharaoh will lop off your head and hang you from a pole. The birds will devour your flesh. Sorry, dude.”

The baker’s face grew ashen.

Three days later, on Pharaoh’s birthday, the ruler gave a lavish feast for his servants. He released his chief cupbearer and chief baker from the prison and restored the cupbearer to his former position. As for the baker, he was hanged on a pole just as Joseph described.

The cupbearer forgot all about Joseph and the accuracy of his dream interpretations.

Inspiration: Genesis 40

Prospering servant

The Ishmaelites sold Joseph in Egypt to Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh’s guard. But because God’s presence stayed with Joseph, he became prosperous in his Egyptian master’s employ.

Joseph never missed an opportunity to acknowledge the divine qualities in his master, and as a result, Potiphar softened in his rule over others. Potiphar saw that his servant was blessed, so he put him in charge of everything he had. Potiphar emulated Joseph, whom he deeply respected, and God blessed him and his dominion.

Joseph was a handsome man, and Potiphar’s wife lusted after him.

“Come and lie in my bed,” she said to the young servant.

Joseph refused and tried to reason with her. “Don’t you see,” he said as she pulled on his tunic, “Your husband has trusted me with everything he owns, and he doesn’t have to worry about me cheating him in any way. He’s given me every liberty except for you, his wife. How could I ever betray his trust and sin against God?”

Every day, Potiphar’s wife would come to see Joseph and try to seduce him, but he refused to break his master’s trust. One day, she was fed up with asking, so she just went for Joseph. She grabbed hold of his tunic violently and ordered him, “Lie with me!”

Joseph slipped out of her grasp and ran out of the house, leaving the tunic dangling from her hand.

She cried out for her servants, who immediately came to her. “My husband brought a Hebrew into this house, and he’s defiled it! He tried to force himself on me, but I cried for help, and he fled.” She repeated this story to her husband when he returned from the field.

Potiphar went into a rage and shut Joseph away in prison beneath his house. But in prison, God never left Joseph alone. He showed consistent kindness to Joseph through the warden, who put Joseph in charge of all the prisoners. Like Potiphar before him, the warden trusted Joseph so much that he had no concerns of revolt or subterfuge. There, even in prison, God made all of Joseph’s work prosper.

Inspiration: Genesis 39

Judah’s twins

“Come, let’s spend time together at my lodgings,” Judah propositioned the veiled woman, not realizing that the temple prostitute was his daughter-in-law, Tamar.

“And what’s in it for me?” Tamar asked with a sly smile.

“A baby goat from my flocks when I reach Timnah,” Judah said.

“And I should just believe you’ll keep your promise?” Tamar asked. “I need collateral.”

Judah carried little of monetary value when he traveled. “What shall I give you, as I have nothing but the clothes on my back?”

Tamar smiled. “I’ll take your signet ring and the cord it dangles from on your neck. Or is your identity worthless?”

Judah took the ring of his family seal and handed it to her.

“And your staff,” Tamar added.

Judah handed over his staff and brought her to his bed.

After Tamar got what she was after, she left Judah’s tent and went back home and changed her clothes.

After seeing his sheepshearers in Timnah, Judah sent his friend Hirah back through Enaim to make good on his promise and to recover his signet, cord, and staff. Hirah looked all over Enaim for her without success.

He asked the local citizens, “Where can I find the temple prostitute who waits by the east gate?” But no one knew who he was talking about. “We run a clean town. No prostitutes here.”

Hirah went back and gave Judah the bad news. Judah answered, “Well, let her keep my belongings. We’ll become a laughing stock if we keep looking for her.”

Three months later, Judah heard some disturbing news. “Tamar, your sons’ widow, has been whoring around and now she’s pregnant.

“Bring her here to be burned alive,” Judah commanded indignantly.

Tamar faced her father-in-law, who had already prepared a pyre for her in the square. She carried with her a broad-bottomed satchel.

“The owner of these belongings is the man who has made me pregnant,” she said, throwing the satchel at his feet. “Take a look, and know who the father is.”

Judah opened the satchel and turned white as a ghost. There he found his signet, cord, and staff.

Falling to his knees, he hung his head and said to those gathered around, “She’s in the right, and I’m in the wrong. I promised her my son Shelah, and I failed to fulfill it.”

Tamar gave birth to twins, and Judah never slept with her again. During childbirth, one child put his hand out, so the midwife tied a red thread around its wrist to mark who would be born first. But when he withdrew his hand, his brother came out before him. They called the firstborn “Perez,” Breach, and his brother with the red thread, they named “Zerah,” Bright.

Inspiration: Genesis 38

Spilling seeds

Judah left home in Hebron to stay with a friend and fellow shepherd named Hirah in Adullam. While living there, he married a Canaanite named Bathshua, and they had two sons, Er and Onan. When Bathshua conceived the third son, Judah and his family settled for a time in Chezib.

Shortly after his third son Shelah was born, Judah chose a wife for his firstborn son, Er. Her name was Tamar.

Er was a wicked man, so God put him to death. As was the custom, Judah insisted that Onan marry his brother’s widow so that he could father a child on his brother’s behalf. But Onan wanted the offspring as heirs for himself, so whenever Onan had sexual intercourse with Tamar, he’d pull out and let his semen spill onto the ground. This displeased God, who wanted Abraham’s descendants to be fruitful, so He put him to death too.

“Live as a widow in your father’s house,” Judah told Tamar after Onan’s death. “When my son Shelah comes of age, he will be your husband, and he will give you an heir.”

Judah had no intention of giving his third son to Tamar because he feared Shelah too might die. But Tamar took Judah at his word and moved back to Adullam to live with her father until Shelah came of age.

Judah’s wife died shortly after Shelah grew to manhood. After he mourned her death, Judah and his friend Hirah decided to meet up in Timnah for sheep shearing season. Word got back to Tamar about their plans, and since Judah hadn’t kept his word to her, she decided to take matters into her own hands.

Tamar took off her widow’s clothing and put on a veil. There on the road to Timnah, she sat disguised as a prostitute at the entrance to Enaim. She would wait for Judah to pass by.

Inspiration: Genesis 38

Sibling betrayal

Israel wanted to hear a good report of his sons grazing his flocks so far away, roughly sixty miles from home in Hebron.

“Joseph,” he beckoned. “Go check on your brothers. Come back and tell me they’re taking proper care of my sheep.”

So Joseph left his father in the valley and set off for the lush fields near Shechem. Once he arrived, he began searching the area, and a man noticed him wandering around, looking lost.

“What are you looking for, stranger?” he asked.

I’m looking for my brothers,” he answered. “They’re around here somewhere pasturing my father’s sheep.”

The man answered, “I overheard them say they were going to Dathan,” and he pointed in that direction.

Sure enough, Joseph spotted them in a distant pasture near where the man had said.

“Look,” Simeon said, while Joseph was still far from them. “The dreamer has come to grace us with his presence.” As Joseph continued to approach, they plotted to cut his throat, throw him in an abandoned cistern, and tell their father he’d been slain by a wild beast. “Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams.”

Reuben wasn’t keen on killing the boy, though. “Don’t spill his blood,” he said. “Just throw him in the pit where he’ll die of his own accord, and with no blood on our hands.” Reuben secretly planned to come back later and rescue his father’s favorite son.

The brothers grabbed Joseph by both arms, stripped him of his multicolored robe, and threw him into the bone-dry pit. Reuben went back to the field to gather the flocks, and the rest of the brothers sat under a tree near the cistern to have some lunch.

A caravan of Ishmaelites approached from the direction of Gilead, and from the looks of the packs on their camels, they were heading to Egypt to sell their wares.

Judah stood up and said, “What good is our brother dead in a pit? Will his blood not still be on our hands?” Then he ran up to the roadside and waved his arms at the approaching merchants.

“What is this?” the leader of the caravan asked through his coarse beard. “Do we already have a buyer for our gum, balm, and resin?”

Judah held up his hand. “Wait here, sirs.” He went back down the hill where his brothers were eating. “Come on,” he said. “Let’s sell Joseph to these Ishmaelite traders.”

“Good idea, Judah,” Simeon said. “After all, he’s our brother, not a feral animal.”

“Or worse,” Levi added. “A son of Shechem.”

It was unanimous, so while Judah went to the road to negotiate the sale, the others lifted Joseph out of the cistern. They traded their brother for twenty silver pieces.

By the time the brothers had finished their lunch, Reuben had come back with the sheep and looked into the cistern. Seeing that Joseph was no longer there, he tore his clothes in grief.

He said, “Our brother is gone. What do we do?”

Naphtali tossed Joseph’s cloak on the ground, and Simeon brandished a long knife. Taking a goat from the flocks, he cut its throat and spilled the blood all over the multicolored coat. Taking it to their father, Naphtali said, “Look what we found on the path to Hebron. Didn’t this belong to Joseph?”

Israel tore his robe and wept. “A wild animal has devoured my son!” he lamented. “All that’s left is this bloody cloak.” He put a burlap loincloth around his middle and mourned for days. No amount of comfort from his sons and daughters did any good. “I’ll go into the depths of my son’s grave, mourning all the way,” he rasped.

Inspiration: Genesis 37

Lofty dreams

Seventeen-year-old Joseph daily shepherded his father’s flocks with his brothers. While his brothers tended flocks in a brute and callous way, Joseph treated each animal with tenderness and compassion. One day, he went to his father and complained that his brothers were treating the herds with cruelty and neglect.

Now, Israel favored Joseph over his other sons, having fathered him in later years with the wife that he loved, and lavished him with expensive gifts. One was a long cloak with sleeves of multicolored layers. Joseph, oblivious to the overt inequality of favor he received from his father, enjoyed parading around in his robe like a proud peacock. Joseph’s brothers hated Joseph for this, and they never missed an opportunity to speak cruelly to him.

One night, Joseph woke up from a dream, and partly out of spite, he shared it with his brothers. “We were all tying up parcels of grain in the field,” he recounted, “when my parcel stood upright, and your parcels gathered around mine and bowed low to the ground.”

The brothers were indignant. Reuben, the oldest, said, “You think you’re going to rule over us?” The others laughed, but their hearts brooded with anger toward Joseph.

Being young, foolish, and increasingly braggadocious, Joseph shared another dream. In the presence of his father and brothers, he said, “I also dreamed the sun, moon, and eleven stars bowed down to me.”

Israel balked. “Watch your tongue, boy,” he rebuked, “You think your dead mother, your brothers, and I are going to bow down to you?”

The contents of the boy’s dream reverberated in Israel’s mind, and the brothers stewed quietly as their wrath intensified.

Inspiration: Genesis 37

Cleaning house

Jacob shook off the disturbing images of his sons’ bloodlust and prayed for some clear direction. God told Jacob to go back to Bethel and settle there. “Make an altar to me,” God said, “at the place where I appeared when you fled from Esau.”

Jacob knew he needed to set his house right before proceeding further. He made a blanket announcement to all who lived in his camp. “Sons, daughters, wives, servants, gather up all your foreign gods, cleanse yourselves with water from the spring, and change into clean clothes. We’re going to Bethel to build an altar to the God who’s had my back since I fled from my brother so long ago.”

For the next few days, everyone brought Jacob their idols. They removed the earrings they wore as symbols of wealth and substance, and they washed in the brook. Jacob took all the objects of false worship, the gods and the jewelry, and he buried them underneath an oak tree near Shechem.

When they left for Bethel, God inflicted a collective paranoia on all the villages surrounding the people of Israel so that no one dared leave their house to attack Jacob’s caravan.

They arrived safely at Bethel, and Jacob built his altar. God came to him and said, “Your name is Jacob, but from this moment you’ll be called Israel. The land I gave to Abraham and Isaac will be yours, and it’ll belong to your children after you.”

Israel brushed off the old altar of stone he’d erected so many years before, and he named the place “El-Bethel,” The God of God’s House.

Soon afterward, Israel left Bethel and traveled toward Ephrath. Along the way, Rachel struggled through the birth of her son.

“Don’t be scared,” her midwife tried to soothe her. “You’re going to have a son.”

But Rachel’s dying words were, “He will be called ‘Benoni’ Son Of My Pain.

Israel buried his wife Rachel in a tomb and marked it with a boulder somewhere along the road. There, he renamed his newborn child Benjamin. Journeying on, he pitched his tent beyond the tower of Eder near Bethlehem.

While living there near Bethlehem, Reuben slept with Bilhah, his mother’s servant and father’s concubine. Israel heard this troubling news, but he would need to think carefully about a suitable punishment for him.

Israel and Esau came to Mamre Oaks at Hebron to bury their father Isaac, who was a hundred and eighty years old when he died. From there, Israel and his family went and settled in Bethel. Altogether, Israel’s sons were Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Joseph, and Benjamin.

Inspiration: Genesis 35

Dinah’s avengers

When Leah’s daughter Dinah went out to visit the women in the area, the prince of Shechem noticed her. After grabbing her in the street and brutally raping her, he decided instead that he loved her. So he helped her to her feet and spoke gently to console her.

Later that day, the prince demanded of his father Hamor, “I want her as my wife!”

Word got back to Jacob that his daughter had been sexually assaulted, but since his sons were working with the cattle, he brooded all alone. When Hamor came out to speak with Jacob, the sons were also returning from the field. When they heard from Jacob what had happened, they were outraged by the offense done to a daughter of Israel.

Hamor tried to bargain with them. “My son longs for Dinah,” he said. “Please give her as his wife. For that matter, why not marry our daughters, and let us marry yours. Our land will be yours in which to buy, sell, and trade freely.”

The prince showed up and offered himself to them. “I come in peace,” he said. “Whatever you ask of me, I will grant it to you. Consider it my wedding gift. I must have her as my wife.”

“Wedding gift?” Simeon stammered. “You’re prostituting our—”

“The price will be impossibly high,” Jacob interrupted. “We can’t give our daughters to an uncircumcised people.”

The prince and Hamor stood silently before Jacob and his sons.

“But,” Levi spoke up, “on the condition that both of you, as well as every male in your town, cut off their foreskins, our sister will be yours to marry.”

“And our daughters will be yours,” Simeon added. “Yours will be ours. We’ll become one people.”

“And these wide, open spaces will be ours to share,” Levi said.

“Otherwise, we’ll take our daughters and move on,” Jacob said, doubting they’d take such audacious conditions seriously.

But the prince and his father Hamor agreed. The young prince was so eager for the love of his betrothed that he had Jacob do the honors right then and there.

Hamor and the prince went to the city gate and relayed to the men of Shechem all that had been discussed with the tribe of Israel. “If we do this thing,” the prince reasoned, “will not their property and livestock be ours?”

Every male who was present agreed to the circumcision by leaving the city gate. Jacob and his sons were on the other side, sharpening their knives.

After two days, and while every male of the city was still sore, Simeon and Levi entered the gates in long cloaks. One by one, they raided each house brandishing swords, and they slew their hapless enemies.

“This is for Dinah,” they’d say, as the cold steel cut through each male’s flesh. Finally, they reached the house of the prince, where he and his father were lying in recovery. Simeon and Levi entered, each standing over their victim.

“As our father said,” Levi sneered as both brothers raised their swords, “the price for Dinah is impossibly high.”

After slaughtering Hamor and his rapist son, they collected Dinah and her belongings and left.

The rest of Jacob’s sons came in behind Dinah’s avengers and plundered the city on Dinah’s behalf. They took flocks, herds, donkeys, everything of value, and they captured their women and children for their own devices.

Jacob was distraught by the news of Shechem’s demise. “You’ve made me an enemy to all my neighbors,” he said. “You’ve slaughtered these Hivites. If the Canaanites and Perizzites come together against me, we’ll all be destroyed.”

Simeon said, “You’d rather our sister be treated like a whore?”

Levi muttered under his breath, “Is this not where God first promised this land to our great-grandfather Abraham?”

Inspiration: Genesis 34

Israel’s God

Jacob caught up with his family just in time to see a retinue of men coming toward him. Quickly he divided his children up with their respective mothers and lined them in groups. The maids and their children made up the front of the line, Leah and her children were in the middle, and Rachel and Joseph were at the back.

Then he went on ahead of them all, alone and unarmed. As he approached Esau, he bowed low to the ground seven times.

When Esau recognized his brother, he ran to him and hugged him. Together they both cried. Esau saw the approaching caravan. “Who’s with you?” he asked.

“These are my children, given to your servant by a gracious God.”

As each group drew near, they bowed before Esau. He regarded each of them with a nod and turned again to Jacob.

“What’s the meaning of the endless train of livestock that came before you?” Esau asked.

Jacob took a knee. “To find favor in your eyes, master,” he answered.

Esau offered his hand to his brother and lifted him up. “I’ve got more than enough, brother. Keep your property.”

“No, master,” Jacob pleaded. “If we’re at peace, accept what I offer as a sign. Seeing you after these many years is like seeing God face to face, especially since you receive me with such kindness.”

Esau accepted Jacob’s gift and said, “Let’s go home together.”

But Jacob hesitated. “Master, you know my children are small, as well as the suckling young of my flocks and herds. Please go on ahead, and I’ll travel at a slower pace for their safety. I’ll meet you in Seir.”

Very well,” Esau agreed. “But let me leave some of my people with you.”

“You’re too kind,” Jacob said, “but no, I cannot accept.”

“Very well,” Esau again relented. “See you soon.” And Esau went south and returned home to Seir.

Jacob, on the other hand, traveled west and built a little house with stables for his livestock. That place was named “Succoth,” Stables. Then moving across the Jordan River, he settled outside Shechem in Canaan. He bought a piece of land with a hundred pieces of silver and pitched his tent.

Then he built an altar to God and called it “El-Elohe-Israel,” God, the God of Israel.

Inspiration: Genesis 33