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Chapters 37-41a recount Joseph's suffering and demonstration of his worthiness. The relationship of Chapters 37-41a to the rest of the Joseph cycle is discussed at Genesis 36-50. These chapters can be outlined as follows:
- Verses 37:1-11: Joseph's two dreams that brothers will serve him
- Verses 37:12-36: Brothers' three plans to be rid of Joseph
- Verses 38:1-30: Judah poor steward, Tamar
- Verses 39:1-23: Joseph good steward, Potiphar's wife
- Verses 40:1-23: Joseph interprets two prisoner dreams
- Verses 41:1-45: Joseph interprets two pharoah dreams
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- Gen 38: Judah contrasted with Joseph. Although this chapter seems to disrupt the story about Joseph from the previous chapter(s), the sets up a strong contrast between Judah and Joseph's behavior and attitudes toward sexual purity in the next chapter, viz. 39:7-12. The tension between Judah and Joseph climaxes in Gen 44.
- Gen 38:2: Took. The combined phrases "Judah saw there a daughter" and "he took her" taken together seem to have an illicit connotation, suggesting a basis of lust rather than covenantal propriety. The fact that the wife's name isn't mentioned also seems to suggest this. Other usages of the word take with illicit overtones include: Gen 3:6, 6:2, 12:15, 34:2, and Judg 14:1-2. See Word Bible Dictionary Volume 2 (Genesis 16-50) by Gordon J. Wenham, p. 366 (ISBN 0849902010).
- Gen 38:9: Spilled it on the ground. The Hebrew wording suggests that Onan practiced coitus interruptus on each occassion, not just once. As the NIV renders it, "But Onan knew that the offspring would not be his; so whenever he lay with his brother's wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from producing offspring for his brother."
- Gen 38:11: Levirate marriage. Among ancient Israelites, Assyrians, and Hittites, as well as at Nuzi and Ugarit, there was a responsibility of marrying one's widowed sister-in-law (cf. Deut 25:5). Many scholars believe that there was an earlier, stricter stage of the law where the obligation was mandatory and ultimately rested with the father-in-law. (See WBD reference below.)
- References: See Word Biblical Commentary Volume 2 (Genesis 16-50) by Gordon J. Wenham, p. 366 * WBD: See Word Bible Dictionary Volume 2 (Genesis 16-50) by Gordon J. Wenham, p. 366 (ISBN 0849902010) and the references mentioned therein, particularly Ancient Israel: Its Life and Institutions by R. de Vauz (translated by J. McHugh, New York: McGraw-Hill, 1961), pp. 37-8.
- 'Gen 38:24: Penalty for adultery: Tamar seems to be technically betrothed to Shelah (though Judah does not seem interested in fulfilling his promise of having him marry her). It seems Judah could legitamately demand the death penalty (cf. Deut 22:23-24), though burning seems an extreme form of death (compared to stoning) reserved only for a priest's daughter in Deut 22:21. Ironically for Judah, the law also implicates the partner of the adulteress.
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- Gen 37:11: What is meant by "his father observed the saying"?
Prompts for life application
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Prompts for further study
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- LDS Institute Old Testament Student Manual, Vol. 1 (PDF version): Chapter 8/28: Gen 37-50. Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2003.
Footnotes are not required but are encouraged for factual assertions that average readers cannot easily evaluate for themselves (such as the date of King Solomon’s death or the nuanced definition of a Greek word). In contrast, insights rarely benefit from footnoting, and the focus of this page should always remain on the scriptures themselves rather than what someone has said about them. Links are actively encouraged on all sections of this page, and links to authoritative sources (such as Strong's Bible Concordance or the Joseph Smith Papers) are preferable to footnotes.