Genesis Chapters 37-39: When Others Squash Our Dreams
Note: PRS.work is a plug-and-play video Bible Study. Everything you need to connect the Bible to your work is in the video above. Feel free to press play and just listen. Or follow along with the transcript below.
Welcome to PRS.work, a video series that helps us hear the Bible together at work. In this video you'll hear a brief introduction, a Psalm read as an opening prayer, a long passage from the Bible, and a commentary about what this means for work, workers, and the workplace. When the video ends you can discuss how this applies to your work.
Today’s Public Reading of Scripture begins the story of Joseph – the last important figure in Abraham’s line in the book of Genesis.
Joseph started off life with his father’s favor and wild dreams of personal success. Favor and ambition put Joseph at odds with his brothers, who set out to kill him. Instead, they sold him into slavery in Egypt. Over the next few years, while Joseph worked diligently, he was harassed, falsely accused, and thrown into prison. Nevertheless, Joseph continued following God and working towards success in every circumstance.
Before reading along to a dramatic recording of Genesis Chapters 37-39, we will open with Psalm 73 in prayer.
A Psalm of Asaph.
Truly God is good to Israel,
To such as are pure in heart.
2 But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled;
My steps had nearly slipped.
3 For I was envious of the boastful,
When I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
4 For there are no pangs in their death,
But their strength is firm.
5 They are not in trouble as other men,
Nor are they plagued like other men.
6 Therefore pride serves as their necklace;
Violence covers them like a garment.
7 Their eyes bulge with abundance;
They have more than heart could wish.
8 They scoff and speak wickedly concerning oppression;
They speak loftily.
9 They set their mouth against the heavens,
And their tongue walks through the earth.
10 Therefore his people return here,
And waters of a full cup are drained by them.
11 And they say, “How does God know?
And is there knowledge in the Most High?”
12 Behold, these are the ungodly,
Who are always at ease;
They increase in riches.
13 Surely I have cleansed my heart in vain,
And washed my hands in innocence.
14 For all day long I have been plagued,
And chastened every morning.
15 If I had said, “I will speak thus,”
Behold, I would have been untrue to the generation of Your children.
16 When I thought how to understand this,
It was too painful for me—
17 Until I went into the sanctuary of God;
Then I understood their end.
18 Surely You set them in slippery places;
You cast them down to destruction.
19 Oh, how they are brought to desolation, as in a moment!
They are utterly consumed with terrors.
20 As a dream when one awakes,
So, Lord, when You awake,
You shall despise their image.
21 Thus my heart was grieved,
And I was vexed in my mind.
22 I was so foolish and ignorant;
I was like a beast before You.
23 Nevertheless I am continually with You;
You hold me by my right hand.
24 You will guide me with Your counsel,
And afterward receive me to glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but You?
And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You.
26 My flesh and my heart fail;
But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
27 For indeed, those who are far from You shall perish;
You have destroyed all those who desert You for harlotry.
28 But it is good for me to draw near to God;
I have put my trust in the Lord God,
That I may declare all Your works.
Now Jacob dwelt in the land where his father was a stranger, in the land of Canaan. 2 This is the history of Jacob.
Joseph, being seventeen years old, was feeding the flock with his brothers. And the lad was with the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives; and Joseph brought a bad report of them to his father.
3 Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age. Also he made him a tunic of many colors. 4 But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peaceably to him.
5 Now Joseph had a dream, and he told it to his brothers; and they hated him even more. 6 So he said to them, “Please hear this dream which I have dreamed: 7 There we were, binding sheaves in the field. Then behold, my sheaf arose and also stood upright; and indeed your sheaves stood all around and bowed down to my sheaf.”
8 And his brothers said to him, “Shall you indeed reign over us? Or shall you indeed have dominion over us?” So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words.
9 Then he dreamed still another dream and told it to his brothers, and said, “Look, I have dreamed another dream. And this time, the sun, the moon, and the eleven stars bowed down to me.”
10 So he told it to his father and his brothers; and his father rebuked him and said to him, “What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall your mother and I and your brothers indeed come to bow down to the earth before you?” 11 And his brothers envied him, but his father kept the matter in mind.
12 Then his brothers went to feed their father’s flock in Shechem. 13 And Israel said to Joseph, “Are not your brothers feeding the flock in Shechem? Come, I will send you to them.”
So he said to him, “Here I am.”
14 Then he said to him, “Please go and see if it is well with your brothers and well with the flocks, and bring back word to me.” So he sent him out of the Valley of Hebron, and he went to Shechem.
15 Now a certain man found him, and there he was, wandering in the field. And the man asked him, saying, “What are you seeking?”
16 So he said, “I am seeking my brothers. Please tell me where they are feeding their flocks.”
17 And the man said, “They have departed from here, for I heard them say, ‘Let us go to Dothan.’ ” So Joseph went after his brothers and found them in Dothan.
18 Now when they saw him afar off, even before he came near them, they conspired against him to kill him. 19 Then they said to one another, “Look, this dreamer is coming! 20 Come therefore, let us now kill him and cast him into some pit; and we shall say, ‘Some wild beast has devoured him.’ We shall see what will become of his dreams!”
21 But Reuben heard it, and he delivered him out of their hands, and said, “Let us not kill him.” 22 And Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood, but cast him into this pit which is in the wilderness, and do not lay a hand on him”—that he might deliver him out of their hands, and bring him back to his father.
23 So it came to pass, when Joseph had come to his brothers, that they stripped Joseph of his tunic, the tunic of many colors that was on him. 24 Then they took him and cast him into a pit. And the pit was empty; there was no water in it.
25 And they sat down to eat a meal. Then they lifted their eyes and looked, and there was a company of Ishmaelites, coming from Gilead with their camels, bearing spices, balm, and myrrh, on their way to carry them down to Egypt. 26 So Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is there if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? 27 Come and let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother and our flesh.” And his brothers listened. 28 Then Midianite traders passed by; so the brothers pulled Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt.
29 Then Reuben returned to the pit, and indeed Joseph was not in the pit; and he tore his clothes. 30 And he returned to his brothers and said, “The lad is no more; and I, where shall I go?”
31 So they took Joseph’s tunic, killed a kid of the goats, and dipped the tunic in the blood. 32 Then they sent the tunic of many colors, and they brought it to their father and said, “We have found this. Do you know whether it is your son’s tunic or not?”
33 And he recognized it and said, “It is my son’s tunic. A wild beast has devoured him. Without doubt Joseph is torn to pieces.” 34 Then Jacob tore his clothes, put sackcloth on his waist, and mourned for his son many days. 35 And all his sons and all his daughters arose to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted, and he said, “For I shall go down into the grave to my son in mourning.” Thus his father wept for him.
36 Now the Midianites had sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh and captain of the guard.
It came to pass at that time that Judah departed from his brothers, and visited a certain Adullamite whose name was Hirah. 2 And Judah saw there a daughter of a certain Canaanite whose name was Shua, and he married her and went in to her. 3 So she conceived and bore a son, and he called his name Er. 4 She conceived again and bore a son, and she called his name Onan. 5 And she conceived yet again and bore a son, and called his name Shelah. He was at Chezib when she bore him.
6 Then Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. 7 But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord killed him. 8 And Judah said to Onan, “Go in to your brother’s wife and marry her, and raise up an heir to your brother.” 9 But Onan knew that the heir would not be his; and it came to pass, when he went in to his brother’s wife, that he emitted on the ground, lest he should give an heir to his brother. 10 And the thing which he did displeased the Lord; therefore He killed him also.
11 Then Judah said to Tamar his daughter-in-law, “Remain a widow in your father’s house till my son Shelah is grown.” For he said, “Lest he also die like his brothers.” And Tamar went and dwelt in her father’s house.
12 Now in the process of time the daughter of Shua, Judah’s wife, died; and Judah was comforted, and went up to his sheepshearers at Timnah, he and his friend Hirah the Adullamite. 13 And it was told Tamar, saying, “Look, your father-in-law is going up to Timnah to shear his sheep.” 14 So she took off her widow’s garments, covered herself with a veil and wrapped herself, and sat in an open place which was on the way to Timnah; for she saw that Shelah was grown, and she was not given to him as a wife. 15 When Judah saw her, he thought she was a harlot, because she had covered her face. 16 Then he turned to her by the way, and said, “Please let me come in to you”; for he did not know that she was his daughter-in-law.
So she said, “What will you give me, that you may come in to me?”
17 And he said, “I will send a young goat from the flock.”
So she said, “Will you give me a pledge till you send it?”
18 Then he said, “What pledge shall I give you?”
So she said, “Your signet and cord, and your staff that is in your hand.” Then he gave them to her, and went in to her, and she conceived by him. 19 So she arose and went away, and laid aside her veil and put on the garments of her widowhood.
20 And Judah sent the young goat by the hand of his friend the Adullamite, to receive his pledge from the woman’s hand, but he did not find her. 21 Then he asked the men of that place, saying, “Where is the harlot who was openly by the roadside?”
And they said, “There was no harlot in this place.”
22 So he returned to Judah and said, “I cannot find her. Also, the men of the place said there was no harlot in this place.”
23 Then Judah said, “Let her take them for herself, lest we be shamed; for I sent this young goat and you have not found her.”
24 And it came to pass, about three months after, that Judah was told, saying, “Tamar your daughter-in-law has played the harlot; furthermore she is with child by harlotry.”
So Judah said, “Bring her out and let her be burned!”
25 When she was brought out, she sent to her father-in-law, saying, “By the man to whom these belong, I am with child.” And she said, “Please determine whose these are—the signet and cord, and staff.”
26 So Judah acknowledged them and said, “She has been more righteous than I, because I did not give her to Shelah my son.” And he never knew her again.
27 Now it came to pass, at the time for giving birth, that behold, twins were in her womb. 28 And so it was, when she was giving birth, that the one put out his hand; and the midwife took a scarlet thread and bound it on his hand, saying, “This one came out first.” 29 Then it happened, as he drew back his hand, that his brother came out unexpectedly; and she said, “How did you break through? This breach be upon you!” Therefore his name was called Perez. 30 Afterward his brother came out who had the scarlet thread on his hand. And his name was called Zerah.
Now Joseph had been taken down to Egypt. And Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, captain of the guard, an Egyptian, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had taken him down there. 2 The Lord was with Joseph, and he was a successful man; and he was in the house of his master the Egyptian. 3 And his master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord made all he did to prosper in his hand. 4 So Joseph found favor in his sight, and served him. Then he made him overseer of his house, and all that he had he put under his authority. 5 So it was, from the time that he had made him overseer of his house and all that he had, that the Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; and the blessing of the Lord was on all that he had in the house and in the field. 6 Thus he left all that he had in Joseph’s hand, and he did not know what he had except for the bread which he ate.
Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance.
7 And it came to pass after these things that his master’s wife cast longing eyes on Joseph, and she said, “Lie with me.”
8 But he refused and said to his master’s wife, “Look, my master does not know what is with me in the house, and he has committed all that he has to my hand. 9 There is no one greater in this house than I, nor has he kept back anything from me but you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?”
10 So it was, as she spoke to Joseph day by day, that he did not heed her, to lie with her or to be with her.
11 But it happened about this time, when Joseph went into the house to do his work, and none of the men of the house was inside, 12 that she caught him by his garment, saying, “Lie with me.” But he left his garment in her hand, and fled and ran outside. 13 And so it was, when she saw that he had left his garment in her hand and fled outside, 14 that she called to the men of her house and spoke to them, saying, “See, he has brought in to us a Hebrew to mock us. He came in to me to lie with me, and I cried out with a loud voice. 15 And it happened, when he heard that I lifted my voice and cried out, that he left his garment with me, and fled and went outside.”
16 So she kept his garment with her until his master came home. 17 Then she spoke to him with words like these, saying, “The Hebrew servant whom you brought to us came in to me to mock me; 18 so it happened, as I lifted my voice and cried out, that he left his garment with me and fled outside.”
19 So it was, when his master heard the words which his wife spoke to him, saying, “Your servant did to me after this manner,” that his anger was aroused. 20 Then Joseph’s master took him and put him into the prison, a place where the king’s prisoners were confined. And he was there in the prison. 21 But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him mercy, and He gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison. 22 And the keeper of the prison committed to Joseph’s hand all the prisoners who were in the prison; whatever they did there, it was his doing. 23 The keeper of the prison did not look into anything that was under Joseph’s authority, because the Lord was with him; and whatever he did, the Lord made it prosper.
Pause for Reflection
Now we'll take a moment to reflect silently on what we have just read and heard in Scripture.
When Others Squash Our Dreams
From the Theology of Work Bible Commentary on Genesis
From a young age, Joseph believed God had destined him for greatness. In dreams, God assured Joseph that he would rise to a position of leadership over his parents and brothers. From Joseph’s point of view, these dreams were evidence of divine blessing, rather than his own ambition. From his brothers’ point of view, however, the dreams were further manifestations of the unfair privilege that Joseph enjoyed as the favorite son of their father, Jacob. Being sure that we are in the right does not absolve us from empathizing with others who may not share that same view. Good leaders strive to foster cooperation rather than envy. Joseph’s failure to recognize this put him at severe odds with his brothers. After initially plotting murder against him, his brothers settled for selling him to a caravan of traders bearing goods through Canaan to Egypt. The merchants, in turn, sold Joseph to a high official in Egypt named Potiphar. Joseph’s dreams seemed squashed.
Joseph’s stint in Potiphar’s employ gave him a wide range of fiduciary responsibilities. At first, Joseph was merely “in” his master’s house. We don’t know in what capacity he served, but when Potiphar recognized Joseph’s general competence, he promoted him to be his personal steward and “put him in charge of all that he had” (Genesis 39:4).
After a time, Potiphar’s wife took a sexual interest in Joseph. The sexual harassment by this woman took place in a power relationship that disadvantaged Joseph. Although she believed that she had the right and power to use Joseph in this way, her words and contact were clearly unwelcome to him. Joseph’s work required him to be at home where she was, yet he could not call the matter to Potiphar’s attention without interfering in their marital relationship. Even after his escape and arrest on false charges, Joseph seems to have had no legal recourse. Although he had been climbing in Potiphar’s employ, Joseph’s dreams of greatness were again arrested.
The similarities between Joseph’s experience and modern-day sexual harassment drive home lessons for the workplace today. As in Joseph’s story, the whims of those in power are what often count in practice. Workers are reluctant to come forward with claims of sexual harassment because they know the risk of retaliation. Joseph’s moral uprightness did not rescue him from expulsion from his job and from imprisonment. If we find ourselves in a parallel situation, our godliness is no guarantee that we will escape unscathed.
But Joseph did not give up on his dreams. In prison, Joseph carried on with the work God had given him, becoming a model prisoner, and waiting for God to make it right in the end. While this story is a realistic recognition that standing up to sexual harassment in the workplace may have devastating consequences, it is also a story of hope that by God’s grace, good may eventually prevail in the situation.
No matter what we face at work, we can trust that we belong to the Lord and that he defends the weak. When we truly believe this promise, there is no injustice or difficult situation that can completely squash our dreams.