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Genesis 38-40

Supplemental notes for the Daily Bible Study Bible Reading Plan

by Wayne Blank

Genesis Chapter 38

Jacob's son Judah (see Children of Jacob) married a Canaanite woman; they had three sons.

Judah and Tamar

"There Judah saw the daughter of a certain Canaanite whose name was Shua; he married her and went in to her, and she conceived and bore a son, and he called his name Er. Again she conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Onan. Yet again she bore a son, and she called his name Shelah. She was in Chezib when she bore him." (Genesis 38:2-5 RSV)

Judah's oldest son Er was put to death by The Lord because he behaved wickedly (Genesis 38:7). When Judah's second son, Onan, refused to produce a child for his dead brother Er through his widow Tamar, according to custom, The Lord put Onan to death too (Genesis 38:8-10). This left Judah with one son, who was too young to be married, and a widowed daughter-in-law who very much wanted a child from her dead husband's family line.

"Then Judah said to Tamar his daughter-in-law, "Remain a widow in your father's house, till Shelah my son grows up" - for he feared that he would die, like his brothers. So Tamar went and dwelt in her father's house." (Genesis 38:11 RSV)

Judah's own wife then died, upon which his daughter-in-law Tamar devised a plan to have a son.

"In course of time the wife of Judah, Shua's daughter, died; and when Judah was comforted, he went up to Timnah to his sheepshearers, he and his friend Hirah the Adullamite.

And when Tamar was told, "Your father-in-law is going up to Timnah to shear his sheep," she put off her widow's garments, and put on a veil, wrapping herself up, and sat at the entrance to Enaim, which is on the road to Timnah; for she saw that Shelah was grown up, and she had not been given to him in marriage. When Judah saw her, he thought her to be a harlot, for she had covered her face." (Genesis 38:12-15 RSV)

Tamar became pregnant by her father-in-law Judah from which she gave birth to twin boys, Perez (the line of Judah through whom King David and Jesus Christ were descended i.e. Matthew 1:3,6,16) and Zerah.

"When the time of her delivery came, there were twins in her womb. And when she was in labor, one put out a hand; and the midwife took and bound on his hand a scarlet thread, saying, "This came out first." But as he drew back his hand, behold, his brother came out; and she said, "What a breach you have made for yourself!" Therefore his name was called Perez. Afterward his brother came out with the scarlet thread upon his hand; and his name was called Zerah." (Genesis 38:27-30 RSV)

Genesis Chapter 39

Jacob's son Joseph (see the Fact Finder question below) had been sold into slavery by his jealous brothers (see Joseph's Dreams).


"Now Joseph was taken down to Egypt, and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard, an Egyptian, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him down there." (Genesis 39:1 RSV)

It soon became apparent however that Joseph was no ordinary young man.

"The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man; and he was in the house of his master the Egyptian, and his master saw that The Lord was with him, and that The Lord caused all that he did to prosper in his hands." (Genesis 39:2-3 RSV)

Unfortunately, Potiphar's lustful wife found him desirable for another purpose, but when she was refused, she falsely accused Joseph in order to cover her own wickedness.

"And after a time his master's wife cast her eyes upon Joseph, and said, "Lie with me."

But he refused and said to his master's wife, "Lo, having me my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my hand; he is not greater in this house than I am; nor has he kept back anything from me except yourself, because you are his wife; how then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?" [see The Ten Commandments Before Sinai?]

And although she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not listen to her, to lie with her or to be with her. But one day, when he went into the house to do his work and none of the men of the house was there in the house, she caught him by his garment, saying, "Lie with me." But he left his garment in her hand, and fled and got out of the house.

And when she saw that he had left his garment in her hand, and had fled out of the house, she called to the men of her household and said to them, "See, he has brought among us a Hebrew to insult us; he came in to me to lie with me, and I cried out with a loud voice; and when he heard that I lifted up my voice and cried, he left his garment with me, and fled and got out of the house." (Genesis 39:7-15 RSV)

Joseph was unjustly imprisoned, but even there he prospered because The Lord was with him for the coming purpose.

"And Joseph's master took him and put him into the prison, the place where the king's prisoners were confined, and he was there in prison. But The Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love, and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison. And the keeper of the prison committed to Joseph's care all the prisoners who were in the prison; and whatever was done there, he was the doer of it; the keeper of the prison paid no heed to anything that was in Joseph's care, because The Lord was with him; and whatever he did, The Lord made it prosper." (Genesis 39:20-23 RSV)

Genesis Chapter 40

While in prison, The Lord enabled Joseph to understand dreams, a power that would eventually not only secure his release, but make him the Prime Minister of Egypt, second only to the king of Egypt himself.


"They said to him, "We have had dreams, and there is no one to interpret them."

And Joseph said to them, "Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell them to me, I pray you." (Genesis 40:8 RSV)

Despite the accuracy of Joseph's interpretation of the dreams, "the chief butler did not remember Joseph, but forgot him." Innocent Joseph would remain imprisoned for over 2 more years.

"Then Joseph said to him, "This is its interpretation: the three branches are three days; within three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your office; and you shall place Pharaoh's cup in his hand as formerly, when you were his butler (see The Pharaoh's Chief Butler). But remember me, when it is well with you, and do me the kindness, I pray you, to make mention of me to Pharaoh, and so get me out of this house. For I was indeed stolen out of the land of the Hebrews; and here also I have done nothing that they should put me into the dungeon."

When the chief baker saw that the interpretation was favorable, he said to Joseph, "I also had a dream: there were three cake baskets on my head, and in the uppermost basket there were all sorts of baked food for Pharaoh, but the birds were eating it out of the basket on my head."

And Joseph answered, "This is its interpretation: the three baskets are three days; within three days Pharaoh will lift up your head--from you! - and hang you on a tree; and the birds will eat the flesh from you."

On the third day, which was Pharaoh's birthday, he made a feast for all his servants, and lifted up the head of the chief butler and the head of the chief baker among his servants. He restored the chief butler to his butlership, and he placed the cup in Pharaoh's hand; but he hanged the chief baker, as Joseph had interpreted to them. Yet the chief butler did not remember Joseph, but forgot him." (Genesis 40:12-23 RSV)

Fact Finder: What was the Israelite patriarch Joseph's purpose in Bible History?
See The Israelite Patriarchs - Joseph

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