The final ending of Genesis 37 takes some time to get to, with the reunification of the brothers happening in Genesis 45:1-15. A theme that I emphasize when teaching Genesis 37 and 38 is that the Lord can take something destructive or sinful and use it for his purposes and turn it into something good. We see this with Joseph, where he is betrayed by his brothers and eventually saves not only their lives, but countless lives through his spiritual gifts and foresight.
We see this also in Genesis 38, a rather dark story where Judah makes choices that bring shame upon his daughter in law as well as himself. The result of his choices bring about the twins Pharez and Zarah (Genesis 38:29-30). I point out to students that the cross reference in Genesis 38:29a takes us to Luke 3:33, which shows us that Pharez is part of the genealogy of Jesus Christ. God can work goodness in a world full of all kinds of difficulty! To say that he can only work through acts of holy men and women would limit his ability to do his work in this world of sin and destruction. The story of Judah and Tamar, and Joseph and his brothers is a beautiful illustration of this truth.
I also like to point out that the story of Joseph’s betrayal is actually a combination of two stories that are stitched together. When read from the Bible, this story can be kind of confusing. Is Joseph sold to the Ismaelites or the Midianites? Does Reuben suggest that Joseph not be slain, or does Judah? By seeing a visual representation that this text is actually two accounts that are put together, students can see the Bible in a new light. As a Latter-day Saint, I see no difficulty in understanding that the Bible is an accumulation of differing accounts with editors that have reworked and redacted the text, as this is exactly what the prophet Mormon did with the Book of Mormon!
Below you can see the different versions of the story of Genesis 37, color coded according to the separate authors or editorial schools that have given us the text. The green represents the “Yawhist” version of the story, and the blue text represents the “Elohist” author of Genesis 37. Read this way, readers can see with greater clarity that this text is the production of two differing authors or scribal tradition.
J E P R
Jacob dwelt in the land of his father’s sojournings, in the land of Canaan. 2 This is the history of the family of Jacob.
Joseph, being seventeen years old, was shepherding the flock with his brothers; he was a lad with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives; and Joseph brought an ill report of them to their father. 3 Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he made him a long robe with sleeves. 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 when he told it to his brothers they only hated him the more. 6 He said to them, “Hear this dream which I have dreamed: 7 behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and lo, my sheaf arose and stood upright; and behold, your sheaves gathered round it, and bowed down to my sheaf.” 8 His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Or are you indeed to have dominion over us?” So they hated him yet more for his dreams and for his words. 9 Then he dreamed another dream, and told it to his brothers, and said, “Behold, I have dreamed another dream; and behold, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” 10 But when he told it to his father and to his brothers, his father rebuked him, and said to him, “What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall I and your mother and your brothers indeed come to bow ourselves to the ground before you?” 11 And his brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the saying in mind.
12 Now his brothers went to pasture their father’s flock near Shechem. 13 And Israel said to Joseph, “Are not your brothers pasturing the flock at Shechem? Come, I will send you to them.” And he said to him, “Here I am.” 14 So he said to him, “Go now, see if it is well with your brothers, and with the flock; and bring me word again.” So he sent him from the valley of Hebron, and he came to Shechem. 15 And a man found him wandering in the fields; and the man asked him, “What are you seeking?” 16 “I am seeking my brothers,” he said, “tell me, I pray you, where they are pasturing the flock.” 17 And the man said, “They have gone away, for I heard them say, ‘Let us go to Dothan.’” So Joseph went after his brothers, and found them at Dothan. 18 They saw him afar off, and before he came near to them they conspired against him to kill him. 19 They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. 20 Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; then we shall say that a wild beast has devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams.” 21 But when Reuben heard it, he delivered him out of their hands, saying, “Let us not take his life.” 22 And Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood; cast him into this pit here in the wilderness, but lay no hand upon him”—that he might rescue him out of their hand, to restore him to his father. 23 So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the long robe with sleeves that he wore; 24 and they took him and cast him into a pit. The pit was empty, there was no water in it.
25 Then they sat down to eat; and looking up they saw a caravan of Ish′maelites coming from Gilead, with their camels bearing gum, balm, and myrrh, on their way to carry it down to Egypt. 26 Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we slay our brother and conceal his blood? 27 Come, let us sell him to the Ish′maelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” And his brothers heeded him. 28 Then Mid′ianite traders passed by; and they drew Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ish′maelites for twenty shekels of silver; and they took Joseph to Egypt.
29 When Reuben returned to the pit and saw that Joseph was not in the pit, he rent his clothes 30 and returned to his brothers, and said, “The lad is gone; and I, where shall I go?” 31 Then they took Joseph’s robe, and killed a goat, and dipped the robe in the blood; 32 and they sent the long robe with sleeves and brought it to their father, and said, “This we have found; see now whether it is your son’s robe or not.” 33 And he recognized it, and said, “It is my son’s robe; a wild beast has devoured him; Joseph is without doubt torn to pieces.” 34 Then Jacob rent his garments, and put sackcloth upon his loins, and mourned for his son many days. 35 All his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted, and said, “No, I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning.” Thus his father wept for him. 36 Meanwhile the Mid′ianites had sold him in Egypt to Pot′i-phar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard.