Saturday, August 21, 2010

Joseph’s Second Dream -- Genesis 37:9-11

Now he had still another dream, and related it to his brothers, and said, “Lo, I have had still another dream; and behold, the sun and the moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” And he related it to his father an to his brothers; and his father rebuked him and said to him, “What is this dream that you have had? Shall I and your mother and your brothers actually come to bow ourselves down before you to the ground?” And his brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the saying in mind.

And as if one dream is not enough, God proceeds to give Joseph a second one. But does he dare share this one with his father and brothers after the reception he got the last time? Absolutely. Joseph is either very naïve or someone who likes to stir up trouble. Perhaps in his complete focus on self, young Joseph missed the increased hatred the first dream had given rise to in his brothers. It is not totally clear whether Joseph related his second dream to his father and brothers separately or at the same time. The sentence structure is such that it could be either.

[As an aside, this is an excellent example of what some preachers or bible-teachers can do with a text. They can take one interpretation of this (e.g. he told them at the same time) and purport it to be the case; others will take the opposite (e.g. he ‘likely’ told them at separate times) and push that interpretation. I think, in such situations, it is best to offer both possibilities and indicate which is preferred or the ‘more likely, but not certain’ scenario.]

I personally believe that the sentence structure favors the “together or simultaneous” interpretation but also allows for the “at separate times” view. In addition, I believe Jacob’s chiding of him but secretly holding a different view (see below) also supports this interpretation. But first, back to the dream.

This second dream portrays an image of the sun (which his father interprets to represent himself), the moon (his mother) and eleven stars (his brothers) bowing down before Joseph. No sheaf of wheat this time so there’s no mistaking that the recipient of the submission is clearly Joseph. And interestingly, his parents join the brothers in paying tribute to him. This presents a bit of a problem for us. We had read of Joseph’s mother Rachel dying in Genesis 35:19. It is possible that this current segment of scripture is out of chronological order. We must accept it as that or come up with some other meaning for both what the “moon” in the dream was meant to signify as well as what Jacob asked. David Guzik suggests that the transition point may have been Genesis 37:2 where the genealogy begins. Up to that point, Jacob may have been the keeper of the records and he included Rachel’s death, but then others (likely Joseph himself) took over and did some backtracking to continue the story and history of the patriarchs. Matthew Henry on the other hand suggests that Jacob only took the dream to be an idle one since it included Joseph’s mother who had died earlier. [Once again, we can see how different scholars view scripture differently. We need to be careful, when we adopt one view versus another that we do not insist that “this is the way it was” and anyone who thinks otherwise is a fool or lost forever.]

The scripture does say his father “rebuked him”, although we do not know whether it was in public or in private. Was Jacob coming to the defense of his other sons? I tend to think so because right after we are told of the rebuke and the question Joseph’s father posed to him, we read, “And his brothers were. . .” . That “And” is a strong connector for me, but again not definitive in indicating that the rebuke was public and thus the sharing simultaneous.

While he did rebuke Joseph and while his other sons became jealous of their brother, Jacob also stored the dream and its meaning in his mind. You will remember that like Abraham and Isaac, Jacob had also been made part of the promise or covenant that God had established for His people. Jacob was indeed a man who had personally experienced the power and will and presence of God. In his mind, he had a good idea of what God wanted. This possibility of what the dream foretold, as strange as it seemed, came to him as something the Almighty could well use in His plan.

So what are some of the potential implications or teachings for us from this short segment? I think there are several worthy of note.

First, we may want to show some greater wisdom or discernment with whom, how, and what we share with others. With the exception of being a means for us to learn about the dream and its potential prophecy, was there really any benefit to his brothers knowing that Joseph had it? One could argue that it will all make sense much later in the story and that is true. But did they really need to know it at this point in time?

Secondly, we need to note that both of Joseph’s dreams were foretelling all the good things that would occur. There was no dream about what difficult experiences would happen to him personally in advance (we will study these further as we continue in Genesis) or even the struggles that his family would have. The implication being that we need, once we get a vision or a calling from God, to prepare ourselves for the risks and the hardships that may accompany that vision. Not that we should say ‘no’ to God, but that we weigh the costs and be prepared to pay them, rather than complain later about them.

Finally, seeing some of the complexities with interpretations as well as the possible non-chronological retelling of the story as recorded in Scripture, I think it behooves us to be less dogmatic about certain positions or views that are not one hundred percent clear and absolute with respect to the evidence that supports them.

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  1. Anonymous21/8/10 15:27

    ...this is a little "side bar" on "counting costs"...when a man and woman stand at the altar before God and man and say "I Do",could they ever know what they are saying "I Do" to? ...more off topic now, but this prompted some wise person to come up with, "before marriage keep both eyes wide open, after marriage partly shut". did ask for comments, but you didn't say they had to be "on topic"

  2. Hey Anonymous: You need to count the costs before you get to the altar. The point holds in marriage - you can't say later, "I wasn't in for 'this' negative stuff that's happening to 'us'." Having said that, I also don't believe that you need to keep your eyes "partly shut" after marriage. A godly couple will want to see how they can always improve their marriage after the altar. But that doesn't mean, as many think it does, you can go out with guns ablazing to change the other person or else. Just my thoughts. Blessings.