The book of Genesis is prophetic in nature. The theme from chapter 12 through 36 is God’s interaction with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. God established His election through these three witnesses. Later when God called Moses at Mt. Sinai, He declared that His eternal, memorial name was the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob (Exodus 3:15). From Genesis chapter 37 through chapter 50, God’s elect vessel is the infant nation of Israel rather than individual patriarchs. The book is prophetic in nature because it outlines the leadership within the nation of Israel for the future. We have an account of events in the lives of Judah and Joseph. These would become the leading tribes of the nation of Israel. The prophetic promises and hence God’s work of redemption would be carried out primarily through these two tribes.
According to the tradition of the time, tribal authority and the double blessing would go to the firstborn son. The firstborn son of Jacob and Leah was Reuben. Reuben eliminated himself from leadership and the blessing by sleeping with Bilhah, his father’s concubine. (Genesis 35:22) Jacob’s second-born, Simeon, and his third-born, Levi, both eliminated themselves in the matter concerning their sister Dinah at Shechem. (Genesis 34:1-31). Judah was next in line. On the other hand, Joseph was the firstborn son to Jacob and Rachel. In the remaining chapters of Genesis both Judah and Joseph are shown to be worthy of tribal leadership (Judah) and the double blessing (Joseph).
Joseph was a man of faith. He received prophetic dreams and interpreted dreams of others as well. Through dreams he foresaw, in the short term, all of the tribes of Israel including his father’s household bowing down to him (Genesis 37). These dreams foretold Joseph’s rise to power in Egypt and future interactions with his family there during a famine. Joseph became a type of Messiah (he was rejected by his family, went to a distant land and received a kingdom, saved his people in a time of great stress and was ultimately reconciled to his family and ruled over them). It is amazing to me that his prophetic ministry did not extend beyond himself. His direct descendants failed to distinguish themselves in the manner that Joseph did. Those enduring faith characteristics will be seen in Judah rather than in Joseph.
Ultimately, redemption would be worked out through Judah. In the current section of study we have an unusual account of Judah interacting with his sons and daughter-in-law. At first, this appears to be a glimpse of cultural life during the patriarchal era. The real purpose of this account, however, is to demonstrate something crucial in the character of Judah that will distinguish him as a leader of God’s people. Judah promised Tamar, his daughter-in-law, that she would be given to Judah’s youngest son in order to raise up descendants for her deceased husband. Judah failed to fulfill his promise. Tamar disguised herself as a temple prostitute and became pregnant by Judah. When Judah became aware that Tamar was pregnant, he ordered her executed. At this point Tamar revealed that Judah himself was the father of her child. Now this is the point of revelation concerning Judah. He could have attempted to hide his involvement with her and she would have been executed. Yet, Judah, when confronted with his sin, confessed what he had done, i.e., he took responsibility for his sin instead of blaming others. This is one aspect of character that is crucial for leadership. Later King David would be confronted with his sin concerning Uriah. Like Judah before him, David confessed his sin. In contrast to this, King Saul blamed others when he was confronted with his sin concerning Amalek. Saul was rejected from leadership.
Joseph was sold by his brothers into bondage. When in Egypt, he was again sold to Potiphar. Later he was falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife and was thrown into prison. There he faithfully served the chief jailer. In this capacity, Joseph interpreted the dreams of two of Pharaoh’s servant who had been imprisoned. The dreams of Pharaoh’s servants were fulfilled and the cup-bearer was restored to his previous position. He forgot about Joseph who was left in prison. In each of these situations, Joseph had every reason to feel sorry for himself, yet, he did not. Due to the prophetic visions that God had given him, Joseph saw himself in faith as an instrument of the Lord. He continually confessed that God was using him to accomplish His purpose.
This is the hard part for us as believers. Firstly, our vision and mission must be established by a clear “faith word” (Romans 1:17). Secondly, we must walk out that faith word without doubting. Even when we face all manner of injustices, we should follow the example set for us by Joseph and give praise and glory to the Lord. Messiah Jesus declared repeatedly that the one who endures to the end will receive the promise.