Notes on Genesis (xvii)

‘Then Joseph had a dream, and reported it to his brothers.’ (Gen 37:5)

The object of special love from his father Jacob and consequent hostility from his brothers, Joseph had a dream in which the sheaves his brothers had reaped bowed down to the sheaf he had reaped, and another in which the sun, the moon and eleven stars bowed down to him. Not surprisingly, his older brothers were not pleased to be told of these dreams, which they doubtless saw as revealing Joseph’s aspirations, and proceeded to plot against him.

But it may be worth pausing on the significance of Joseph as a dreamer and, later, an interpreter of other people’s dreams (Gen 40, 41). What he dreams comes to pass, and his interpretations of the dreams of others turn out to be true, but the dreams have something of a party trick about them. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are described as having had immediate experiences of God; with Joseph it is more a case of somehow being connected with the supernatural. Hence, although he finds a place along with Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, and Jacob in a list of examples of faith (Heb 11:8-22), Moses will be addressed at the burning bush by someone who identifies himself as ‘the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’ (Ex 3:6 cf 3:15), words that will be quoted by Christ (Matt 22:32 and parallels) and St Stephen (Acts 7:43). The three generations preceding Joseph are the special ones.  ‘The knowledge of God which arose from Abraham’s personal encounter with him…was an experience of relationship only and, like every true relationship, it was based only on the faith and trust which is born between those who are in a relationship with each other…Isaac and Jacob, the son and grandson of Abraham, have the same knowledge of God from immediate experience of a personal relationship with him.’ (Christos Yannaras) Not so, apparently, with Joseph.

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