Genesis 39-47: The Rise of Joseph

We are getting dangerously close to finishing Genesis! This will be part twelve of this series and there’s only one left after it. These chapters take us through the story of how Joseph started out as a slave in Egypt and became the right hand man of the Pharaoh.

An overview: Joseph had been sold into slavery by his brothers (see part eleven) and ended up in Potiphar’s house. After a scandal with Potiphar’s wife, Joseph is put into prison where he interprets dreams for two of the prisoners. When the future’s turn out as he had predicted from the dreams, one eventually tells Pharaoh about this interpreter when Pharaoh starts having crazy dreams too. Joseph is brought to the Pharaoh to interpret the dream, and put in charge of making sure that things relating to the dream are well taken care of. These things include preparation for the great famine that will take place and eventually causes his own family to need food. When they come to him for food, he gives it to them but orchestrates a scenario so that his one brother from Rachel and his father could be reunited with him while not exactly putting full trust in the brothers who had previously sold him into slavery. The age of the youngest does suggest that he may not have been a part of the plan to sell him. The reunion happens and everyone moves to Egypt.

I know it seems long, but we’re dong eight chapters in one stretch!

Chapter thirty-nine

This chapter revolves around Joseph’s time at Potiphar’s house. What is significant about this story is that it leads us to how Joseph came to be in the king’s prison in the first place. Joseph was incredibly trustworthy and succeeded at everything, so Potiphar didn’t have to worry about anything that he had been put in charge of. The wife, on the other hand, was not. Not only did she try to sleep with Joseph, but lied about what did happen later. What I found interesting about her accusation was the difference in wording to her husband and to the other male servants.

With the other male servants, she says “came in to me to lie with me” and to her husband she says “came in to me to laugh at me”. Some translations say “came in to me” which can easily be construed as had sex with her, as in the whole act happened. The word itself, which I looked up, can also be used to say that “he advanced on her”, meaning that he that he came in her rooms with a bad intent and he stopped with the scream that followed. Some of the other translations don’t even include “to me” which makes this second scenario possible. “To lie with me” also meant to have sex with her, which could be that she was saying that he forced himself on her because he wanted to have sex with her. But when she changes the wording to her husband, the word used in the text (since she was likely not speaking Hebrew) is the same one that was used back in chapter twenty-six when Isaac was caught doing something with Rebekah that was clearly not appropriate for a brother and sister to do but since they were possibly in public, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it was sex itself. In either case, she is definitely accusing Joseph of something he didn’t do and it doesn’t matter when it comes to defending her. I am not defending her.

But Potiphar reacts to this news in a way that seems odd. He just puts Joseph into the prison that he oversees for the Pharaoh and that has people who are or have been and some who will again be close to the Pharaoh. Let’s think about this for a second. It even says that his “anger was kindled” which sounds like it would be pretty bad. But Joseph was a slave, a good and prosperous one, but a slave. Would it not have been in his power to do far worse?

It’s hard not to read into this, it really is. There are so many ways that this could be playing out in their minds, but we’re not given any of that. She’s accusing him of rape, attempted rape, sexual assault or simply an unwanted proposition. There’s no mention of the humiliation that Dinah suffered, nor is the word that will be used later in Dueteronomy for “force” used in conjunction with this attempt at sex. Potiphar is angry but doesn’t go into a murderous rage. So which one would cause only anger? Or does he not even believe her because Joseph is so upstanding? All we have are some context clues, but even these can be interpretted in many different ways.

Chapter forty

This is where we find out that Potiphar runs the prison that he threw Joseph into and soon puts him in charge of everything there, just like he had been in his house, except now there’s no wife around to harrass or whatever. Joseph begins to interpret dreams rather than just have them. He interprets dreams for two other prisoners that come. He asks one of the prisoners, who he knows will be reinstated by the Pharaoh, to remember him when he is out. Then, of course, the man doesn’t remember Joseph, not until later.

Chapter forty-one

Joseph’s luck was bound to turn around eventually. Here we see that the Pharaoh has been plagued by a recurring dream and the man who was reinstated now remembers Joseph. When Joseph interprets the dream for the Pharaoh, he is rewarded by being put in charge of the preparations that the dream calls for. The dream predicts a great famine and it is now Joseph’s job to prevent the kingdom from starving during the famine, which he was apparently very good at. He’s even made governor.

Joseph is actually so good at this he was put in charge of dealing with the famine when it came as well and people from all over came to buy grain from them. During this time, Joseph marries an Egyptian woman and they have two sons.

I find it incredibly interesting that the dreams were sent to Pharaoh only in this story. While we never get the full motivations of God in any particular story, it was fun to imagine what the story would sound like from the point of view of evangelising the Egyptians or God attempting to get their attention away from their polytheism and onto him.

Chapters forty-two to forty-four

In these chapters, Joseph’s own dream from part eleven come true. His brothers come to buy grain and bow down to him. They don’t recognize him. He doesn’t tell them who he is right away and that’s understandable. There’s a bit of a testing phase that is still quite generous. He gives them what they went there for but demands to see Benjamin. Some dealing is done about it and he eventually gets to see the youngest of his brother’s who had not made the journey previously. While there is a lot of great things that get preached on in this part of the story, it seems fairly straightforward and I don’t feel like it needs a lengthy interpretation on my part. Joseph reacts cautiously when in contact with his brothers who had previously wanted to kill him but sold him into slavery instead. It makes good sense to me.

There’s a piece where he accuses Benjamin of dealing dishonestly with him, though he had set the younger brother up. The others refuse to leave him, insisting that the boy is their father’s favorite and that he would be inconsolable without the boy.

Chapter forty-five

This chapter is where Joseph comes clean about who he is and hugs his younger brother and they all cry together. It’s interesting to me how often we mention men weeping or crying in the Bible so far. It makes me wonder how we ever came across this idea that men weren’t allowed to cry or that it is some sort of weakness. While I’m sure that tons of people have tons of explanations, the whole thing is just absurd to me. I don’t think I could handle being around anyone who cried a lot or every day, it’s absurd to think that any group should not be allowed to cry at all under penalty of humiliation if you do.

When they share with him that their father would be elated, he rushes them off to get his father but is stopped by the Pharaoh. He had heard the whole thing from some servants who overheard Joseph and his brothers and insisted on giving them a faster ride and loads them down with gifts before letting them on their way.

Jacob is shocked at the news that the son he had mourned and long thought was dead was actually alive. He was not only alive but powerful and had enough food and everything to get them through the famine.

Chapter forty-six

Father and son are reunited! Everyone packs up and goes to Egypt and there’s a list in the chapter that specifies parts of the family that goes. Joseph coaches them a bit on what to say since the Egyptians seem a little put off by the Hebrews despite that their good fortune was the result of one.

Chapter forty-seven

The family does as they were instructed in the previous chapter and given an allotment of land to tend their sheep. Then the famine worsens and Egyptian people run out of money, then livestock, then land and they even turn to selling themselves. At this point, Joseph does an interesting thing. He buys them all, making slaves of all the people of Egypt and then gives them seeds to sow. He mandates that as slaves of the king, they must turn over one-fifth of everything they produce to the king from there on out. It even specifies that the law is still in effect at the time of the writing of Genesis.

I imagine this is the part that comes back to bite the Hebrews later, but we’ll see. The chapter also includes that he didn’t buy up any of the priest’s lands because they got some sort of pension from the Pharaoh and didn’t need to sell it or something.

Then it ends with Jacob’s last request of his son, Joseph. He promises to take Jacob’s body back to where his father and grandfather had been buried, in the land that had been promised to their family. The oath is sealed with the hand under the thigh like back in part eight.

So there are my feelings and impressions on the Chs 39-47 of Genesis. Have you read them? What do you think?

Chapter links go to the ESV translations at but I’m reading from the ESV Global Study Bible, which is available for free on the Kindle Reading App.

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