Jim's Sunday Sermon
Written by Jim Brochu

PART 8: 

The story of Joseph which closes the book of Genesis gives us three "firsts" in bible chronology. One is the first use of the word "Hebrew" as a religious identification; the second is the use of the word "abomination" applied as something abhorrent in the eyes of God and third, the first recorded use of birth control.

Contained in the Joseph mini-series is a spinoff featuring the adventures of his brother Judah. Judah, one of the two brothers who killed all the men of Schechem, married Shua the Canaanite and they had three boys - Er, Onan and Shelah.

When Er was of age, Judah married him off to a girl named Tamar and for some unstated reason, Er offends The Big Voice so greatly that The Big Voice kills him. Judah, wanting a grandchild, tells his second son, Onan, to go to his dead brother's wife and have sex with her. But Onan does not want to have a child with Tamar and although he does engage in sexual relations, he withdraws before ejaculation. Onan "spills his seed on the ground" or, perhaps, Tamar's blue cocktail dress.

Being raised a Catholic, I was taught that the "Sin of Onan" was masturbation. Obviously it was not since he had a sex partner and they were "doing it." He just didn't want a child. It reminds me of my favorite graffiti written on a bathroom wall in during the height of the Vietnam conflict. It read, "Dear President Nixon: Why don't you pull out like your father should have!"

Onan makes a strange remark when he says he doesn't want to have a child with Tamar because it would be his brother's baby. But if Er was already dead, what's the difference?

There must have been something about the person of Tamar that turned men off. Perhaps she was aggressively unattractive or perhaps she just had a humorless personality, but neither Er nor Onan could stand this woman.

However, she must have been a big favorite of The Big Voice; He kills two husbands because he doesn't like the way they treated her.

Tamar goes to Judah and says, "I want a baby. You promised me a baby and your sons haven't given me one so give me your youngest son, Shelah, so I can have a child by him."

This is the kind of woman they used to call a "Black Widow." She'd marry a guy and in two weeks, he'd be dead and she'd be living in the penthouse of the Golan Towers waiting for the next pigeon to come along.

So imagine the look on Judah's face when she says, "give me your last son." Judah says that the boy named Shelah is far too young to be married and Tamar should go back to her father's house and wait for the boy to grow up.

Many years pass and although he is of age, Shelah has not been given to Tamar as Judah promised. Tamar hears that Judah is taking a trip to Timnah where he's going to indulge in a weekend of sheep shearing with some old friends and plans to trick him into having a child with her.

She leaves her "widow's weeds" at home, disguises herself as a prostitute and sits on the road to Timnah waiting for Judah's business. Funny, how even back then, prostitutes had a certain provocative dress that lured men, perhaps a veil that exposed the eyebrow.

Judah comes along, and not knowing that she's his daughter-in-law, says, "Why don't you sleep with me.?"

"Okay," says Tamar. "What will you give me for my service?"

Judah offers her a goat, she accepts. But first she asks him to leave something in trust until he can deliver it. He agrees and leaves his "cord, his stick and his seal."

I have no idea what these items actually were, but they could be a ring, a cane and his belt. If so, I can just see Judah having sex and limping off to the sheep-shearing fest trying to hold his pants up. He did so, however, with a huge smile on his face.

Judah sends the goat over to the prostitute to pay her and get his belt back. But when the messenger asks the locals where the prostitute is, they don't know who he's talking about. The language of the passage suggests that there was no shame in asking where the hooker was or if anyone knew her, indicating that prostitution was a fairly legit business.

Three months later, someone reports to Judah that his daughter-in-law, Tamar, has shamed the family by playing the harlot and becoming pregnant. Judah says, "Take her outside and burn her."

On the way to her burning, she puts a little package together and sends it to Judah as a farewell gift. Guess what's? It's the cord, the stick and the seal with a little card saying, "These things belong to the man who had sex with me and fathered my child."

"Yikes," says Judah. "This is what I get for not letting her marry my youngest son Shelah." So he blessed her, she had twins and Judah had nothing more to do with her.

Judah's younger brother, Joseph, had a far more interesting story. Joseph is the favorite of his father Jacob who gives him a present that infuriates his brothers. One of my translations calls it a "richly ornamented robe," another calls it a "many colored tunic," while the third refers to it as a "long sleeved coat" - the Biblical equivalent of Air Jordans. If you think the brothers are jealous of the coat, they boil over when Joseph tells them about his dream where they all bowed down to him.

One day, Israel sends Joseph off to Schechem to check up on his brothers. It surprises me that they would have the audacity to go back to the place they killed all the men but the grazing was terrific. The brothers have departed Schechem and Joseph catches up to them at Dothan where the boys decide to kill him.

They strip him of his coat, throw him into an empty well and vote to leave him there to die when a troop of Ishmaelite spice traders pass by on their way to Egypt.

The brothers agree to sell him for 20 shekels (the first mention of a specific currency) as a slave rather than kill him and the tribe takes Joseph off to Egypt. Although it says they were Ishmaelites (Gen. 37:25) it says a few verses later that they were Midianites and unless the Midanites and Ishmaelites were the same, then all I have to say is...CONTINUITY!

The brothers soak Joseph's tunic in goat's blood, take it back to Israel and say the poor kid was devoured by a hideous beast. Meanwhile, Joseph arrives in Egypt and gets a cushy position in the home of pharaoh's chief steward, Potifar.

So far in Genesis, there are numerous mentions about how beautiful certain biblical woman, but Joseph has the distinction of being the first male sex symbol being depicted as "well built and handsome." (Genesis 39:6) At least Mrs. Potifar thinks he's a hottie.

The chief steward's wife keeps throwing herself at Joseph who keeps rejecting her because he doesn't sleep around. One day, when all the other servants are out of the house, she rips Joseph's tunic off and demands sex. Joseph respectfully declines. Mrs. Potifar runs outside carrying his clothes and cries rape.

Joseph gets thrown into jail (the first mention of a prison system) and expects to rot there for the offenses he didn't commit. But Joseph has a successful career in prison and gains a reputation for interpreting dreams.

Two of Pharaoh's servants, the butler and the baker, are thrown into prison and have dreams that need interpreting. Joseph, being the Psychic Friends Network of the Egyptian prison system, tells the butler that his dream means total reinstatement with pharaoh while he interprets the baker's dream as immanent capital punishment. Happily for the butler and sadly for the baker, both dreams come true.

Genesis says that the butler went back to work for Pharaoh and forgot all about Joseph for a couple of years. I can't believe you meet a fellow who interprets a dream that comes true and you forget all about him, but...two years later, the Pharaoh is having bad dreams and they send for Joe.

After Joseph interprets the dreams as seven years of feast and seven tyears of famine, Pharaoh makes him his second in command - overseer of all of Egypt. Because of Joseph, Egypt is prepared for the famine and is well stocked with grain - enough to sell to others. Israel, whose flocks are dying from the drought sends his sons to Egypt to stock up.

Joseph recognizes them immediately (though they don't know him) and asks all sorts of questions about the family. He learns that his father is still alive, he has a younger brother named Benjamin and their other brother was killed by wild beast twenty years earlier.

Joseph devises a little practical joke on his brothers. This is one of the nice traits about Joseph. You can tell he's a nice guy by the way he treats his bothers. He had the power to throw all of them in jail or kill them, but instead, he ordered that their sacks be filled with grain and ordered a banquet for them.

It's in this chapter of Genesis that we have the first abomination - a thing that is terrible and hateful in the eyes of God. When Joe prepares the feast for his brothers, he has to sit at a table apart from them because it's an abomination for an Egyptian to sit at the same table with a Hebrew. I find it funny that the Egyptian God had abominations directed against Hebrews who had more abominations than they had sheep.

Today, we associate Hebrew with being Jewish, but I believe the origin meant that it was just the people who lived in or came from Hebron. So if one believes the later abomination of two men not being able to sleep together, back then it was just as heinous if they ate together.

Pass the meat, as long as it doesn't touch the hip bone.

Joseph hatches a plan to reunite his family and bring his father and brother to Egypt to settle. The plan is successful at first, but eventually the Hebrews become so successful that they are enslaved by the Egyptians. The promise of four hundred years of captivity made by The Big Voice is about to be fulfilled.

While Abram, Isaac, Jacob, Adam, Cain and all the other major male figures of the Bible have some major character or moral flaw, along comes Joseph who is a true hero. A moral man in every way and someone who desires to play fair and act generously despite of the horrific acts that his own family perpetrated on him. You might say that Joseph is the Bible's first Christian.


This is an excerpt is from the upcoming book

© 1998, 1999 by Jim Brochu.
All rights of reproduction are reserved by the author.
This book originated at Bonusround.com.