Click here to read Genesis 37:2-38:30

There are a lot of things that are going on in the two chapters that make up today’s passage.  There are plot points that are very similar to what has happened in a previous generation, prophetic dreams, God’s judgment on the wicked sons of Judah, and this passage also presents the origin of what will later be the 3 families who will rule Israel—Shelah, Perez, and Zerah.

But perhaps the clearest overarching theme is the amount of sin that is found in the family that God chose—the 12 sons of Israel. The actions of the family are characterized by favoritism (Jacob), jealousy and deceit (Joseph’s brothers, general wickedness (Er and Onan), and hypocrisy (Judah thought it okay to step our with a prostitute, but then demanded the death of his daughter-in-law because she was pregnant—never mind that Tamar was the “temple prostitute”).  Some of these things, like the general wickedness of Er and Onan, are new to the story of Genesis (at least as God’s chosen line is concerned). In fact, the story of Judah and his sons is jarring when compared to some of the previous accounts.

And other things, like deceit and the older brothers trying to avoid the rule of the younger, are being passed on to a second generation. Interestingly, this concept of the older serving the younger is passed on to three generations in today’s passage (Jacob and Esau, Joseph and brothers, and Zerah and Perez).

And by how Joseph’s brothers treat him in today’s passage we are introduced to a theme that will emerge in the Bible—that sometimes the righteous servants of God will suffer (even those He has chosen). Fortunately for us, there is another recurring theme that was set into motion today, even if we won’t see its completion for a few more passages.  That theme is that God can cause the wickedness of men and their wrath towards His plan (and servants) to work out in such a way that God will be praised as a result.  Things won’t get much better for Joseph in the immediate future, but God will ultimately be praised!

Names Places

Joseph – favorite son of Jacob

Jacob/Israel – second son of Isaac, brother of Esau

Judah – Joseph’s brother


Shechem – where Joseph’s brothers took the flock to graze

valley of Hebron – Joseph left from here to find his brothers

Dothan – where Joseph caught up with his brothers and was sold to some Midianites

Adullam – where Judah moved to live with his friend


Bilhah – Rachel’s maidservant

Zilpah – Leah’s maidservant

Reuben – planned on protecting Joseph (brother)

brothers of Joseph – sold him into slavery and lied about it

Midianites/Ishmaelites – to whom Joseph was sold

Potiphar – captain of the guard and one of Pharaoh’s officials

Hirah – friend of Judah, lived in Adullam

Shua – Judah’s father-in-law

click here to see Judah, his wife, sons and Tamar

(from Logos Bible Software)


Gilead – where the Ishmaelites/Midians who bought Joseph were from

Egypt – where Joseph finally ended up

Kezib – where Judah’s wife gives birth to Shelah

Timnah – where men were shearing Judah’s sheep

Enaim – on the road to Timnah

Interesting facts:

1) Joseph’s dreams are very interesting.  Part of this is because this is the first time that God has used dreams in such a way that it wasn’t God directly speaking to someone.  It’s also interesting to note that God spoke to Jacob and Joseph through dreams when they were going to be exiting the Promised Land, though that seems to be more of an interesting tidbit rather than having any predictive substance behind it.  But these dreams will prove to be interesting, and dreams in general will have a big role in Jospeh’s future.  Joseph’s first dream here is about sheaves of grain and his brothers’ sheaves bowing down to his, which not only predicts that Joseph will be head over his brothers, but also the fact that the dream is agricultural in nature—possibly indicating the context in which this “bowing” will happen. Joseph’s second dream is astronomical in nature—the sun, moon, and stars representing his father, mother, and brothers respectively.  This is important because stars were used more when speaking about rulers of land and people—offering another dimension to Joseph’s future headship. In the passages ahead we’ll see exactly how these dreams fit in with what God is doing!

2) Why is Tamar called righteous?

It does seem very odd for her to be deemed righteous when the cause of the declaration is that she tricked her father-in-law into getting her pregnant when he thought she was just a random temple prostitute.  However, Judah’s statement here isn’t focused on her actions alone, but rather the end result within the context of how he was acting.  Confused? Don’t worry; this doesn’t at all say that the ends justify the means.  What this is saying though, is that Tamar was supposed to be the woman through which Judah’s family would come.  God killed Er because he was wicked and Onan because he was selfishly rebelling against what he should have been doing—fathering children for Tamar who would be viewed as legally coming through Er and Judah.  We see that Judah decided not to have his son Shelah marry her—possibly because Judah blamed Tamar for their deaths.  However, it was wrong of Judah to force Tamar to live as a widow as long as there was another son for her to marry and have children with.  So, Judah was depriving her of what was her right—to be the mother of the line of Judah.  However, through all of the trickery, Tamar was able to regain her right to be the mother through whom the line of Judah was extended. So her righteousness was not that all of her actions were what they should be, but rather that her intentions were to get the family back to the standard that it was intended to be.  But that still doesn’t mean that how she went about it is the right way.