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Chapter Commentary

1 And Joseph fell upon his fathers face, and wept upon him, and kissed him.2 And Joseph commanded his servants the physicians to embalm his father: and the physicians embalmed Israel.3 And forty days were fulfilled for him; for so are fulfilled the days of embalming: and the Egyptians wept for him three-score and ten days.4 And when the days of weeping for him were past, Joseph spake unto the house of Pharaoh, saying, If now I have found favor in your eyes, speak, I pray you, in the ears of Pharaoh, saying,5 My father made me swear, saying, Lo, I die: in my grave which I have digged for me in the land of Canaan, there shalt thou bury me. Now therefore let me go up, I pray thee, and bury my father, and I will come again.6 And Pharaoh said, Go up, and bury thy father, according as he made thee swear.7 And Joseph went up to bury his father; and with him went up all the servants of Pharaoh, the elders of his house, and all the elders of the land of Egypt,8 and all the house of Joseph, and his brethren, and his fathers house: only their little ones, and their flocks, and their herds, they left in the land of Goshen.9 And there went up with him both chariots and horsemen: and it was a very great company.10 And they came to the threshing-floor of Atad, which is beyond the Jordan, and there they lamented with a very great and sore lamentation: and he made a mourning for his father seven days.11 And when the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, saw the mourning in the floor of Atad, they said, This is a grievous mourning to the Egyptians: wherefore the name of it was called Abel-mizraim, which is beyond the Jordan.12 And his sons did unto him according as he commanded them:13 for his sons carried him into the land of Canaan, and buried him in the cave of the field of Machpelah, which Abraham bought with the field, for a possession of a burying-place, of Ephron the Hittite, before Mamre.14 And Joseph returned into Egypt, he, and his brethren, and all that went up with him to bury his father, after he had buried his father.15 And when Josephs brethren saw that their father was dead, they said, It may be that Joseph will hate us, and will fully requite us all the evil which we did unto him.16 And they sent a message unto Joseph, saying, Thy father did command before he died, saying,17 So shall ye say unto Joseph, Forgive, I pray thee now, the transgression of thy brethren, and their sin, for that they did unto thee evil. And now, we pray thee, forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of thy father. And Joseph wept when they spake unto him.18 And his brethren also went and fell down before his face; and they said, Behold, we are thy servants.19 And Joseph said unto them, Fear not: for am I in the place of God?20 And as for you, ye meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.21 Now therefore fear ye not: I will nourish you, and your little ones. And he comforted them, and spake kindly unto them.22 And Joseph dwelt in Egypt, he, and his fathers house: and Joseph lived a hundred and ten years.23 And Joseph saw Ephraims children of the third generation: the children also of Machir the son of Manasseh were born upon Josephs knees.24 And Joseph said unto his brethren, I die; but God will surely visit you, and bring you up out of this land unto the land which he sware to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.25 And Joseph took an oath of the children of Israel, saying, God will surely visit you, and ye shall carry up my bones from hence.26 So Joseph died, being a hundred and ten years old: and they embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt.
Chapter Introduction
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Brief Quotations
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Background
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History of Interpretation
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Verse by Verse Exegesis

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Comparison / Typology
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Theology
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Application
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Introduction to Genesis

Introduction

Genesis is the book of beginnings.  Not only does it recount the origin of the cosmos, but it also lays the foundation for major themes that appear throughout the rest of the Old Testament and New Testament.  These include such themes as marriage and the family, the human relationship to the animal world, the nature of temptation and of sin, blessings and curses, murder, human cultures and cultural diversity, God's promises and covenants, the chosen people, God's pilgrim people, heirship and inheritance, and so forth.  The Book of Genesis is closer in its major themes to much of the New Testament than many other books of the Old Testament.

Genesis is part of the Pentateuch--the first five books of the Hebrew Bible (Tanach) or Old Testament.  Jewish tradition ascribes the authorship of the Pentateuch to Moses, and this idea is echoed in the New Testament (John 1:17, 5:46, 7:19, 23).  While many biblical scholars since the 1800s have challenged the Mosaic authorship of Genesis, there is little within Genesis itself to warrant this skepticism (Sailhamer, Genesis, 3).

 The Book of Genesis includes the following major compenents: Primal history (chaps. 1-11), Abraham (12-24), Isaac (25-26), Jacob (27-36), Joseph (37-50).  The personalities of each of these figures are apparent in the chapters devoted to them.  The Book of Genesis shows a "real development from one story to the next in the tightness of the plot, the depth of characterization, and in theological sophistication."  The so-called primal history of Genesis 1-11 includes episodes that function as isolated snapshots, rather than fully developed stores.  So, for example, in the flood story we see Noah's obedience but receive very little insight into Noah's character and motivations.  Wenham writes that "the Lord is not simply the producer of the play but also the principal actor in the primeval history."  Gen. 1-11 gives access into the mind of God.  The reader gets glimpses into God's inmost thoughts.

Yet in the patriarchal narratives of Genesis 12-50, it is as thought God's presence recedes into the background.  God frequently appears to Abraham, but much less often to Isaac and Jacob.  By the time of Joseph, revelation from God comes in the form of dreams.  Corresponding, the literary level of the narrative alters as well.  The story of Joseph is a polished gem, giving deep perspective into the character and motivations of each of the major players (Wenham, Genesis 1-11, 258).

Background

Late nineteenth- and twentieth-century scholars have hypothesized that the written traditions of the Pentateuch actually "crystallized" in the period of the exile (6th cent. B.C.E.), some eight centuries following the Exodus, and even further removed from the earlier forbears of the Israelite people.  The obvious question arises: How much of this presentation derives from the later period, and how much rests on authentic traditions from much earlier periods?   

Archaeological evidence as presented by William F. Albright and others shows that the Book of Genesis contains data indicating that its authors followed traditions from much earlier times.  Consider the embarrassing patriarchal idols being toted around in the Book of Genesis  It hardly seems likely that a later generation would have invented this.  There are geographical and cultural references to the earlier period. 

"The God of the Fathers."  In the narrative of the call of Moses in Exodus 3, it is stressed that Yahweh who reveals himself to Moses in the burning bush is none other than the God whom the patriarchs worshipped.  Exodus 6:2 seems to say something different: that God was known to the patriarchs as "the Almighty" (El Shaddai), and only subsequently was known as Yahweh.  Prompted by this fact, Albrecht Alt did a classic study entitled "The God of the Fathers" in 1929, which helped to establish some of the decisive differences between patriarchal religion as presented in the Penteteuch, and the later traditions. 

Julius Wellhausen had dismissed the alleged Yahwism in the patriarchal narratives, thinking that the religion of this time was actually akin to pre-Islamic Arabian religion, with belief in ancestral spirits and demons.  Yet Alt took a different approach, beginning with the names for God--"God of Abraham," "Fear of Isaac," "God of my father," etc.--and reasoned that unlike the Canaanite deities that were tied to particular places (elim), the deity of the patriarchs was a specifically nomadic kind of religion tied to family.  It was akin to the much later nomadic religion attested in Nabatean inscriptions.  Alt noted the frequent promises of blessing with many descendents, and this fit into the general picture of "family religion." 

Some have argued against Alt that such phrases as "God of the fathers" can be attested in sedentary societies, and that while the patriarchs are presented as herding sheep and goats, specifically nomadic religious practices are not well attested in the Book of Genesis.  This can be seen as casting doubt on Alt's construction of patriarchal religion from the later Penteteuchal narratives.

Yet there are prima facie arguments for the reliability of many of the traditions in Genesis.  The patriarchal narratives contain many elements that were objectionable and immoral by the later standards of Israelite society.  Consider the following instances.  Abraham married his half-sister (20:12), though this was prohibited by later Torah legislation (Lev. 18:9,11, 20:17; Deut. 27:22; cf. 2 Sam. 13:13; Ezk. 22:11).  Jacob was simultaneously married to two sisters, which was also disallowed in the later law (Lev. 18:18).  Judah had intercourse with his own daughter-in-law, Tamar (38:16), and Reuben slept with his own father's concubine--the mother of his half-brothers (35:22, 49:4; 1 Chron. 5:1).  Such events can hardly be retrojections of later ideals.

The same principle applies to the religious practices of the patriarchs, which also sometimes violated the strictures of the later law.  Abraham is reported as planting a sacred tree where he invoked the name of God, though such an act was later forbidden (21:33; Dt. 16:21, 12:3, Ex. 34:13).  We read also that Jacob set up sacred pillars (massebot) at Bethel and Gilead, although such cultic objects were later considered as Canaanite abominations to be destroyed (28:18, 28:22, 31:13, 35:14, 31:44-52; Ex. 23:24, 34:13, Deut. 7:5, 12:3).  Such pillars were not to be introduced into the worship of the true God (Lev. 26:1, Deut. 16:22).  Although the patriarchs built altars and offered animal sacrifices, no mention is made of temples of priests (12:7, 13:4,18, 22:9, 26:25, 31:54, 33:20, 35:1,3,7, 46:1).  This too was at variance with the later religious practices of the Israelites (Sarna, 87).  

The ancestors of Israel are described in Gen. 12-50 as associations of families (beth 'ab) with a patriarchal organization.  They reared sheep and goats in the hill country of Palestine and in arid marginal zones (Gen. 26:19ff, 37:12ff.), and sometimes engaged in sedentary agriculture (Gen. 26:12 ff.).  They were economically independent, and seem in the narratives to exist in relative isolation from everyone else.  This picture fits in with a time in which political structures beyond the family had not developed in Palestine.  The family was the basic economic and social unit. 

It comes as no surprise that the family is also the basic religious unit.  The male head of the household is the priest (Gen. 13:18, 35:7).  The cultus (i.e., form of worship) is still a family cultus.  Religious experiences are governed by the needs of family life.  This is reflected in the very idea of God: God is the God of the father or forefather.  The relationship to God is a part of the tradition within the family.

It is interesting that no proper names containing Yahweh are given in the patriarchal narratives, but many compound person and place names with El (e.g., Beth-El--house of God).  This is an argument that the name "Yahweh" came later.  It is also quite notable that there is almost no polemic against other gods.  In Gen. 35 Jacob calls on his family to "put away the foreign gods," yet this is a rare instance in the Book of Genesis. 

One of the key religious events in the patriarchal period was the birth of a son.  Legally speaking, sons were necessary for continuity of the family line.  So if a woman had no children, the family was under threat.  Marriage law in the ancient Near East sought to cope with this desperate situation by allowing for various forms of polygamy and proxy birth.  (E.g., Hagar in Genesis 16.)  The birth of a son, after a time of infertility, was seen as a sign of God's blessing.  Sarah--Isaac, and later Hannah--Samuel, and (in the New Testament) Elizabeth--John.

The promise of a son was sometimes given by a divine messenger or malak (translated as "angel").  It is not always clear whether the malak is thought of as a human being who speaks a message from God (consider the "three men" in Gen. 18:2), or else as a supernatural being of some kind.  The most unusual episode of all occurs with the "man" who wrestled with Jacob, had to leave before dawn, and then dislocated Jacob's hip (Gen. 32:22-32.)   

One of the features of the family God stands out sharply: God insures the survival of the family independent of the moral behavior of the members of the family (consider Abraham in Gen. 12:10-20).  God's action is unconditional, grounding in the "covenant" He made with Abraham "and his seed" (or descendents).  God rescues a child--Ishmael--from dying of thirst (Gen. 21:16ff), rescues Isaac from the threat of child-sacrifice (Gen. 22), rescues the wives of the patriarchs from the sexual advances of alien rulers (Gen. 12:10-20). 

God is also with the patriarchs, like Jacob, in all the dangers of their wandering way of life (Gen. 28:20-22--Jacob's vow).  God gives protection to his worshippers.  From the conception of God in this period, one sees indirectly the high degree of danger to which the people were exposed.  The nomadic peoples were too small to defend themselves against larger groups.  We read of frequent disputes over water rights (Gen. 26), yet God enables Isaac to find a new well that no one else knows about, and this shows Yahweh's favor.  Jacob faces a massive threat from his brother Esau (with 400 men!), but escapes unharmed (Gen. 32).  While Yahweh favors his people, he does not act in a warlike fashion in Genesis--unlike the later narratives of conquest in the Old Testament.

There is a ritual/worship aspect to the patriarchal narratives--the founding of altars, and sacred stones (masseba/masseboth).  They may have found existing cultic sites, or else founded new ones.  Sometimes we read that they "call on the name of God."  Recount the story of Laban and Rachel, who stole her father's teraphim--referred to as "my gods."  These were probably small figurines of deities in the possession of the family.  It is an open question as to how many of the families in the patriarchal period had such figures.  Why did Rachel steal them?  Probably inheritance was not based on possessing them, but rather they secured the continuity of the family between generations--a rather important family heirloom, one might say.  There are later references to teraphim--the image that Michal put in the bed to give the impression that David was sleeping there, 1 Sam. 19:13,16, and in Judges 17:5, 18:14,17,20).  The text in Genesis tells us little regarding the function of the teraphim, yet it seems that their loss does not keep Laban from invoking the God of (his father) Nahor to conclude a treaty (Gen. 31:53).

Some have suggested that the teraphim are images of the deified ancestors.  Many analogies could be supplied from other cultures in Africa and East Asia.  There may have been a full cult of the dead in ancient Israel, yet there is little evidence for it in the Hebrew Bible.  Divination through departed spirits is spoken of only in 1 Sam. 28, and here King Saul seeks out not his own relative but the decease prophet Samuel.  Still there was a sense of solidarity with the deceased; when the living die, they are said to be "gathered to their fathers" (Gen. 25:8,17; 35:29; 49:29,33).   

Themes

The basic plotline of the Pentateuch is something like this: the religion of Israel began with a promise of Yahweh to liberate Israel from forced labor in Egypt, and lead the people to Palestine.  It was consolidated by a revelation of Yahweh on Mount Sinai in which he gave Israel the commandments, instituted the nation's worship, and concluded a covenant with the people.  They at last arrived at their destination when Yahweh gave his people the promised land.  Despite differences on details, the Old Testament authors agree that the essential elements of the religion of Israel had already emerged prior to the settlement in Palestine.  In consequence of this, sometimes the history of Israelite religion has been presented as a three stage process of Mosaic religion, Canaanite syncretism, followed by "purified" prophetic religion.

Thematic Essays on Genesis

Commentary List

  • Augustine. The Literal Meaning of Genesis. 2 vols. Ancient Christian Writers, 41-42.
  • Atkinson, David John. The Message of Genesis 1-11: The Dawn of Creation. The Bible Speaks Today. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1990.
  • Ambrose. Hexameron, Paradise, and Cain and Abel. Fathers of the Church, 42. Translated by John J. Savage. Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1961.
  • Ainsworth, Henry. Annotations Upon the Five Bookes of Moses, the Booke of the Psalms, and the Songs, or Canticles. London: Printed by M. Flesher and J. Haviland, 1627. [Public Domain]
  • Baldwin, Joyce G. The Message of Genesis 12-50: From Abraham to Joseph. The Bible Speaks Today. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1986.
  • Bede, the Venerable. On Genesis. Liverpool, UK: Liverpool University Press, 2008.
  • Calvin, John. Commentaries on the First Book of Moses Called Genesis. 2 vols. Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1847-1850. [Public Domain]
  • Cassuto, U. A Commentary on the Book of Genesis. Jerusalem: Magnes, 1989.
  • Clarke, Adam. The Holy Bible, Containing the Old and New Testaments . . . With a Commentary and Critical Notes. 7 vols. New York: Ezra Sargent, 1811. [Google Books]
  • Delitzsch, Franz. A New Commentary on Genesis. 2 vols. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1899. [Google Books—Vol. 1]
  • Dillmann, A. Genesis Critically and Exegetically Expounded. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1897. [Public Domain]
  • Ebach, Jürgen. Genesis, 37-50. Herders theologischer Kommentar zum Alten Testament. Freiburg im Breisgau: Herder, 2007. [German]
  • Gaebelein, Frank E.; ed. Expositor's Bible Commentary. 12 vols. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1976-1992. [Vol. 2: Genesis to Numbers]
  • Hartley, John E. Genesis. New International Biblical Commentary. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2000.
  • Hershon, Paul Isaac; M. Wolkenberg; and H. D. M. Spence-Jones. The Pentateuch According to the Talmud; Genesis: With a Talmudical Commentary. London: S. Bagster and Sons, 1883. [Google Books]
  • Ibn, Ezra, Abraham ben Meir. The Commentary of Abraham Ibn Ezra on the Pentateuch, 5 vols. Vol. 1: Genesis. Hoboken, NJ: Ktav Publishing House, 1900-. [Public Domain]
  • Jamieson, Robert; A. R. Faucet; and David Brown. A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments. 2 vols. [Vol. 1: Old Testament]. New York Jamieson: S. S. Scranton, 1875. [Google Books]
  • Jenks, William; ed. The Comprehensive Commentary on the Holy Bible . . . Containing Scott's Marginal References; Matthew Henry's Commentary. 5 vols. Brattleboro, VT: Fessenden, 1835, 1836, 1839; Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1849. [Vol. 1: Genesis to Judges] [Google Books]
  • John Chrysostom. Homilies on Genesis. 2 vols. Translated by Robert C. Hill. Fathers of the Church, 74 and 82. Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1986-1990.
  • Keil, C. F.; and F. Delitzsch. Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament. Vol. 1; The Pentateuch. [Genesis and Part of Exodus] Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1866. [Google Books]
  • Kennicott, Benjamin. Two Dissertations: The First on the Tree of Life in Paradise With Some Observations on the Creation and Fall of Man; The Second on the Oblations of Cain and Abel. Oxford, Printed at the Theatre, 1747. [Public Domain]
  • Kidder, Richard. A Commentary on the Five Books of Moses. Vol. 1 [Genesis and Exodus]. London: Printed by J. Heptinstall, for William Rogers, 1694. [Google Books]
  • Kidner, Derek. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, Volume 1; Genesis. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2008 [1967].
  • Lange, John Peter. Genesis, Or, the First Book of Moses; A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures. Edited by John Peter Lange. New York: Charles Scribners, 1868. [Google Books]
  • Lardner, Nathaniel. Essay on the Mosaic Account of the Creation and Fall of Man. (1753). [CCEL].
  • Le Clerc, Jean. Twelve Dissertations out of Monsieur Le Clerk's Genesis. Translated by M. Brown. London: Printed by R. Baldwin, 1696. [Public Domain]
  • Lightfoot, John. A Few and New Observations Upon the Booke of Genesis. London: Printed by T. Badger, 1642. [Public Domain]
  • Louth, Andrew; ed.; with Marco Conti. Bray, Gerald; ed. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture; Genesis 1-11. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001.
  • Luther, Martin. A Critical and Devotional Commentary on Genesis; Vols. 1: On the Creation; Vol. 2: On Sin and the Flood. Minneapolis, MN: Lutherans in All Lands Co., 1904-1910. [Public Domain]
  • Luther, Martin. Luther's Works; Vols. 1-8: Lectures on Genesis. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1955- .
  • Mackintosh, Charles Henry. Notes on the Book of Genesis. New York: Loizeaux, 1880. [Google Books]
  • Maclaren, Alexander. Expositions of Holy Scripture; Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. [CCEL]
  • McGee, J. Vernon. Thru the Bible. 5 vols. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1981. [Vol. 1: Genesis to Deuteronomy]
  • Neusner, Jacob. Genesis Rabbah: The Judaic Commentary to the Book of Genesis; A New American Translation. Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press, 1985.
  • Origen. Homilies on Genesis and Exodus. Translated by Ronald E. Heine. Fathers of the Church, 71. Washington, DC. [B, T]
  • Parker, Samuel. Bibliotheca Biblia. [Vol. 1: Genesis] Oxford: Printed at the Theater, 1720.
  • Patrick, Simon. A Commentary Upon the First Book of Moses, Called Genesis. London: Printed for RI. Chiswell, 1698. [Public Domain]
  • Poole, Matthew. Annotations Upon the Holy Bible. 3 vols. New York: Robert Carter, 1853. [Vol. 1: Genesis to Job] [Google Books]
  • Rad, Gerhard von. Genesis: A Commentary. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster, 1961.
  • Ramban [Nachmanides]; and Charles B. Chavel. Commentary on the Torah, 5 vols. [Vol. 1: Genesis] New York: Shilo, 1971-1976.
  • Rashi; and Chaim Pearl. Rashi; Commentaries on the Pentateuch. New York: Norton, 1970.
  • Rashi; and James H. Lowe. "Rashi" on the Pentateuch: Genesis. London: Hebrew Compendium Pub. Co., 1928.
  • Reno, Russell R. Genesis. Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2010.
  • Ross, Alexander. An Exposition of the Fourteene First Chapters of Genesis. London: Printed by B. A. and T. F., 1626. [Public Domain]
  • Sarna, Nahum. The JPS Torah Commentary Series; Genesis. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1989.
  • Sewell, Stephen. The Scripture History Relating to the Overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah. Boston: Printed for William P. and Lemuel Blake, 1796.
  • Sheridan, Mark; ed. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture; Genesis 12-50. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002.
  • Trapp, John. A Clavis to the Bible, Or, A New Comment Upon the Pentateuch. London: Printed for Timothy Garthwait, 1649. [Public Domain]
  • Walker, George. The History of the Creation as It is Written by Moses in the First and Second Chapters of Genesis. London: Printed for John Bartlet, 1641. [Public Domain]
  • White, John. A Commentary Upon the Three First Chapters of the First Book of Moses Called Genesis. London: Printed by John Streater, 1656. [Public Domain]
  • Whitelaw, Thomas. The Pulpit Commentary; Genesis. Series edited by H. D. M. Spence-Jones. New York / Toronto: Funk and Wagnalls, 1890s. [Google Books]
  • Walton, John H. Genesis. The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001.
  • Wenham, Gordon. Word Biblical Commentary; Genesis 1-15. Waco, TX: Word, 1987.
  • Westermann, Claus. Genesis, 1-11. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1994.
  • Westermann, Claus. Genesis, 12-36. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1985.
  • Westermann, Claus. Genesis, 37-50. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1986.
  • Westermann, Claus. Genesis: A Practical Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987.
  • Willet, Andrew. Hexapla in Genesin and Exodum, that is, A Six-Fold Commentary Upon the First Two Bookes of Moses. London: Printed by Iohn Haviland, 1633. [Public Domain]

Chapter Credits

    This Chapter currently assigned to: Daniel C.