Genesis 37-50:

Joseph and the Jealousy of His Brothers, the Sons of Israel:
Jacob, or Israel, now settled in the land of Canaan. Israel loved Joseph best of all his sons, “for he was the child of his old age.” The special love of his father drew the jealously of the other sons. “When his brothers saw that their father loved him best of all his sons, they hated him so much that they would not even greet him.” (Gen. 37:4) To make matters worse, young Joseph began having dreams of his brothers bowing down to him. This only infuriated the brothers more. And so, they plotted to kill him. “They said to one another: ‘Here comes that master dreamer! Come on, let us kill him..” (Gen. 37:19-20) After throwing him in an empty cistern, they came to their senses a little bit. Judah convinces the brothers: “What is to be gained by killing our brother and concealing his blood? Rather, let us sell him to these Ishmaelites, instead of doing away with him ourselves. After all, he is our brother our own flesh.” (Gen. 37:26-27) So, they decided rather than killing Joseph, they would sell him into slavery to a caravan of Ishmaelites.

Joseph as a Type of Christ:
Joseph is a type of Christ, a forerunner figure of the Messiah. Joseph is the beloved son of the father, Israel, just as Jesus is the beloved Son of God the Father. Joseph is rejected by his own people, his own family, just as Jesus is to be rejected by his own town of Nazareth, and eventually spurned by many of the Jewish people. Joseph’s brothers are enraged at the father for his special relationship with the son Joseph, just as later, the Pharisees are enraged at Jesus with His special relationship with God the Father. They want to kill Joseph, even though he is innocent, just as they want to kill Jesus, though He committed no sin. Joseph is thrown into the pit (well) of death but comes out to save others, just as Jesus dies on the Cross and rises to save others. Joseph is brought by the Ishmaelites into Egypt, just as Jesus would be brought to Egypt too.

Twenty Pieces of Silver:
It is interesting to note that the brothers sell Joseph to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. It reads: “They sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver.” (Gen.37:28) One cannot help but think of Judas’ betrayal of Christ. “They paid him thirty pieces of silver, and from that time on he looked for an opportunity to hand him over.” (Mt. 26:15-16) Whereas Joseph’s brothers spared his life and did not spill his blood, the Pharisees, in the deepening darkness of sin in the world, saw to it that Jesus was crucified; they killed their brother. They cried out before Pilate “His blood be upon us and upon our children.” (Mt. 27:25)  

The Question of Onan and Masturbation:
Judah and Tamar had two sons, Er and Onan. When God was offended by Er, He took his life. So, then Judah told Onan, “Unite with your brother’s widow, in fulfillment of you duty as brother-in-law, and thus preserve your brother’s line.” (Gen. 38:8) Onan, however, did not obey. Onan “knew that the descendants would not be counted as his; so whenever he had relations with his brother’s widow, he wasted his seed on the ground, to avoid contributing offspring for his brother. What he did greatly offended the Lord, and the Lord took his life too.” (Gen. 38:9-10) Many have used this passage as a condemnation of masturbation. Although masturbation is a sin and outside the realm of normal sexual relations, I do not think that is the main point of this passage. God is greatly offended because Onan did not obey his father and selfishly did not do his duty towards his brother’s family, as would have been customary at the time.   

Joseph and Pharaoh’s Dreams:
After Joseph was brought into Egypt, he was assigned to a certain Egyptian, Potiphar, a courtier of the Pharaoh and his chief steward. After being falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife, Joseph was thrown into the royal prison where he was confined. However, after correctly interpreting some dreams for others, the Pharaoh summoned Joseph to his court because of perplexing dreams he was having. The Pharaoh dreamed of seven fat cows, and then seven ill cows. Then, he had another dream of seven healthy ears of grain, and then, seven shriveled ears of grain. Joseph answered Pharaoh: “Both of Pharaoh’s dreams have the same meaning. . . Seven years of great abundance are now coming throughout the land of Egypt, but these will be followed by seven years of famine..” (Gen. 41: 29-30) Joseph then counsels Pharaoh to set up reserves of food to survive the coming years of famine. Pharaoh was greatly pleased by Joseph’s advice. Pharaoh then told Joseph, “I place you in charge of the whole land of Egypt.” (Gen. 41:41) Joseph becomes Pharaoh’s right-hand man. Later, Joseph would have two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim.

Famine and Joseph’s Rations:
Following the seven years of abundance, came seven years of famine, just as Joseph had interpreted Pharaoh’s dream. When famine struck the whole region, they came to Egypt to obtain grain rations from Egypt’s abundance, that Joseph had established. Joseph is perhaps a type of Christ again providing a Eucharistic grain for the world. Caught up in this great famine are the land of Canaan, his family and his brothers. His brothers eventually come before him in the court of Pharaoh to ask for rations of grain. Joseph recognized them, but they do not recognize him. After submitting his brothers to some tests, he eventually confides in them that it is he, Joseph, their long-lost brother. “But his brothers could give him no answer, so dumbfounded were they at him.” (Gen. 45:3)

Joseph’s Faith and Forgiveness:
Joseph tells his brothers not to be distressed. He tells them: “It was really for the sake of saving lives that God sent me here ahead of you.” (Gen. 45:5) Again, this will echo the mission of Jesus who is sent ahead of us as the firstborn to save the lives of many. (Jn. 3:17) Joseph demonstrates his great faith and acceptance of God’s will to save many people and be exiled into Egypt. He tells his brothers: “God, therefore, sent me on ahead of you to ensure for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives in an extraordinary deliverance. So it was not really you but God who had me come here; and he has made of me a father to Pharaoh, lord of all his household, and ruler over the whole land of Egypt.” (Gen. 45:7-8) “Joseph then kissed all his brothers, crying over each of them;” (Gen. 45:15)

Israel and his Sons in the Land of Egypt:
Then Joseph sends for his father and the rest of his family to come stay with them in Egypt (the land of Goshen) and escape the famine. When they told Jacob/Israel that his son Joseph was still alive, he too was dumbfounded. Then, Jacob and all his descendants migrated to Egypt. They settled in the region of Ramses. Before dying, Jacob blessed the two sons of Joseph, Manasseh and Ephraim. Israel blessed the sons: with his right-hand he blessed Ephraim, even though he was the younger, and with his left hand he blessed Manasseh, even though he was the firstborn. Joseph protested this, but Israel told him: “I know. . . Nevertheless, his younger brother shall surpass him, and his descendants shall become a multitude of nations.” (Gen. 48:19)

Israel’s Twelve Sons and the Twelve Tribes of Israel:
In Jacob’s last testament, he addressed and prophesied over his twelve sons, who were to become the twelve tribes of Israel. These are: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Zebulun, Issachar, Dan, Gad, Asher, Naphtali, Joseph (later, Manasseh and Ephraim), and Benjamin. (Gen. 49)

The Scepter of Judah:
Jacob’s prophesy over Judah is of particular note as it is one of the earliest prophesies concerning the coming Messiah. Jacob says to Judah: “You, Judah, shall your brothers praise – your hand on the neck of your enemies; the sons of your father shall bow down to you. . . The scepter shall never depart from Judah, or the mace from between his legs. While tribute is brought to him, and he receives the people’s homage.” (Gen. 49:8-10) Jacob prophesies that the Messiah shall come out of Judah. The connection is made more explicit in the Gospel of Matthew, linking back to this prophesy from Jacob: “‘And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the leaders of Judah; for out of you shall come forth a Ruler who will shepherd My people Israel.’” (Mt. 2:6) Jesus Christ is, of course, born in the town of Bethlehem in the land of Judah. Jesus is the Messianic Son of David, who is from the Tribe of Judah.

Joseph Forgives them One More Time:
Joseph forgives his brothers again and reassures them: “Even though you meant harm to me, God meant it for good, to achieve his present end, the survival of many people. Therefore have no fear.” (Gen. 50:20) Joseph then remained in Egypt, and lived to an age of 110 years old.

The Curious Question of the Patriarchs’ Ages:
Pre-Flood Lifespans:
There is an interesting phenomenon happening throughout the Genesis narrative of early human history: Age is decreasing. That is, the length of a human life decreases from Adam and the beginning of the world down to Joseph and Moses. This is particularly true of the Antediluvian Patriarchs: Adam lived to be 930 years old; Seth 912; Enosh 905; Cainan 910; Jared 962; Methuselah 969; Lamech 777; and Noah 950 years old. According to the Bible, “Pre-Flood” people lived apparently to great lengths of age and years, up to nearly 1,000 years old.

Post-Flood Lifespans:
After the Flood, Noah’s son, Shem, lives only up to 600 years old; Shelah 433 years; Eber 464 years; Peleg 239 years; Reu 239 years; Serug 230 years; Nahor 148 years; Terah 205 years; Abraham 175 years; Isaac 180 years; Jacob (Israel) 147 years; Joseph 110 years old; and Moses 120 years old. As we can see, the Pre-Flood people lived well into the 900’s, while the post-Flood people’s age began to exponentially drop from generation to generation. From immediately after the Flood in the 600’s to 400’s to 200’s and down to what we would typically consider now a possible regular, albeit long, human lifespan of 120 years.

God Intervenes to Limit Lifespans to 120 Years:
In looking back to Genesis 6, God is increasingly upset about the amount of wickedness spreading on the Earth. He says: “Then the Lord said, “My spirit shall not abide in man for ever, for he is flesh, but his days shall be a hundred and twenty years.” (Gen. 6:3) At this point before the Flood, as wickedness is spreading over the world, God decides to limit the lifespan of man down to 120 years. This is where we come to modern times age length with Joseph and Moses. David laments in the Psalms about even shorter ages: “The years of our life are threescore and ten [70], or even by reason of strength fourscore [80]; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.” (Ps. 90:10)

What Happened?:
It is all pure speculation, but it is interesting to ponder. Is it literal, allegorical, or a different measure of time? Most biblical scholars would argue that the ages are allegorical and not literal. Perhaps, their great longevity was meant to be symbolic of the wisdom and influence of the Patriarch. Others argue that they were measuring time by a different calendar, such as by months or lunar cycles. But, the ancients were very gifted for astronomy and measuring the cycles of the Sun and moon. This mathematical approach does not add up though with births and deaths and match family trees. For example, if Abraham was 175 months old that would mean he lived to be 14.

The Wages of Sin are Death:
We might consider that the Biblical texts are actually telling the Patriarchs actual age. We know that God created humans to live forever. Adam and Eve were in a preternatural condition where they would not die. However, God did warn Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden not to eat of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and evil, or they would die (Gen. 2:17). They did not die immediately, but certainly over time their bodies began to wear down, and though they lived hundreds of years, they did eventually die. Their preternatural gift dissipated. That preternatural life then dissipated from generation to generation. The letter to the Romans says, “For the wages of sin is death.” (Rom. 6:23) Perhaps this is a theological truth that as sin increased, the lifespan of man decreased. Sin is life-destroying.  

Other Musings on the Flood:
First off, this is all pure speculation, but it is somewhat interesting to think about.

Perhaps, the Flood created a devastating climatic change to the planet. Perhaps whatever cataclysmic occurrence happened it damaged a protective layer on the Earth’s atmosphere. Maybe after that point more damaging cosmic radiation made it into the atmosphere, which would damage and age humans on a molecular level; the cells and genetic material being damaged by more direct cosmic radiation. Who knows? Genesis does say about the Flood “on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened.” (Gen. 7:11) Maybe the opening of “the windows of the heavens” is alluding to the penetration now of damaging radiation, which could decay and age cells at a much more rapid pace. The cellular mutations would break down and eventually no longer be able to reproduce themselves; thus, more rapid aging and death.

God Intervenes Again in the Future World Renewed:
The prophet Isaiah wrote about the future world to come. He said: “No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime; for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth, and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed.” (Is. 65:20) Apparently, in the future renewed world if someone does not live to be 100 years old, they would be considered cursed, and one who dies at 100 years old only the age of a child.

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