Lesson 34: Genesis 35–37

“Lesson 34: Genesis 35–37,” Old Testament Seminary Teacher Manual (2014)

“Lesson 34,” Old Testament Seminary Teacher Manual

Lesson 34

Genesis 35–37


God commanded Jacob and his family to travel to Bethel, and the Lord appeared to him there. Following this event, Jacob’s wife Rachel and his father, Isaac, died. Jacob favored his son Joseph, who was hated and envied by his brothers. Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, and Joseph was taken to Egypt.

Suggestions for Teaching

Genesis 35:1–15

Jacob travels to Bethel, and the Lord reaffirms His covenant with Jacob

Invite four students to come to the front of the class. Give each of them a slip of paper with one of the following events written on it: a music concert, an athletic contest, a school test, a sacrament meeting. Ask each student to explain what they would do to prepare to participate in that event.

  • In what ways might your preparation for each of these events affect your experience?

As students study Genesis 35, encourage them to look for what Jacob did to prepare himself for a spiritual experience and what the result was.

Invite a student to read Genesis 35:1 aloud. Ask the class to follow along and notice where God commanded Jacob to travel in order to worship Him.

Explain that the meaning of the Hebrew name Bethel is “house of God.” Write the following statement by President Marion G. Romney of the First Presidency on the board (from “Temples—the Gates to Heaven,” Ensign, Mar. 1971, 16), and consider suggesting that students write it in their scriptures next to verse 1: “Temples are to us all what Bethel was to Jacob.”

Invite a student to read Genesis 35:2–4 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what Jacob asked his people to do to prepare to worship the Lord in Bethel.

  • According to verse 2, what did Jacob ask his people to do?

  • What do you think it means to “put away the strange gods”? (You may need to explain that “strange gods” refers to idols or other objects associated with false gods of other nations.) Why do you think it was important for Jacob’s people to “be clean” and to “change [their] garments”?

  • How do you think doing each of these things might have helped them prepare to worship the Lord in Bethel?

  • How did Jacob’s household respond to his counsel?

Summarize Genesis 35:5–8 by explaining that Jacob’s household traveled to Bethel, and he built an altar there.

Invite a student to read Genesis 35:9 aloud. Ask students to follow along, looking for what happened in Bethel. Ask a student to explain what happened.

Write the following statement on the board: As we prepare ourselves to worship the Lord …

Ask students how they would complete this principle based on Jacob’s experience. One way students could complete this principle is: As we prepare ourselves to worship the Lord, we invite His revelation.

Remind students that Jacob’s family put away strange gods, cleansed themselves, and changed the garments they had been traveling in to prepare to worship the Lord.

  • What are similar ways we can prepare to worship the Lord in our day?

  • What have you experienced when you have made a special effort to prepare yourself to worship the Lord?

Ask students to ponder what they can do to better prepare themselves to worship the Lord and invite His revelation. Invite them to consider recording in their class notebooks or scripture study journals any impressions they receive regarding what they should do.

Invite a student to read Genesis 35:10–12 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for the promises the Lord reaffirmed to Jacob as he worshipped in Bethel.

  • What promises did the Lord reaffirm to Jacob?

  • Who else had been promised these blessings?

  • What did the Lord change Jacob’s name to?

Summarize Genesis 35:13–15 by explaining that after God left Jacob, Jacob set up a pillar in the place where he had talked with God to memorialize the event.

Genesis 35:16–29

Rachel dies giving birth to Benjamin, Reuben sins with Bilhah, and Isaac dies

Invite students to reflect on times they have experienced trials or sorrow when they felt they were striving to do what was right.

  • What would you say to someone who thinks “I must not be righteous enough because if I were, I would be spared from suffering difficulties”?

Divide students into groups of three. Invite one student in each group to read Genesis 35:16–19, another student to read Genesis 35:21–22, and the third student to read Genesis 35:27–29. Ask them to look for what Jacob experienced following his sacred experience with the Lord in Bethel. After students have had sufficient time to read their assigned verses, invite them to report their findings in their groups.

  • What can we learn from knowing Jacob experienced trials even while living faithfully? (Students may suggest a variety of principles, but be sure they understand that even those who are faithful to the Lord experience trials and sorrow.)

Invite a student to read the following statement by Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Ask the class to listen for further insight regarding why faithful individuals still experience trials and sorrow:

Wirthlin, Joseph B.

“I love the scriptures because they show examples of great and noble men and women such as Abraham, Sarah, Enoch, Moses, Joseph, Emma, and Brigham. Each of them experienced adversity and sorrow that tried, fortified, and refined their characters” (“Come What May, and Love It,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2008, 27).

  • What are some reasons why faithful individuals still experience trials and sorrow?

  • What examples have you seen of adversity strengthening and refining faithful and righteous individuals?

Share your testimony that although striving to live righteously does not mean we will experience only ease in life, it does mean we can experience peace from God as we are refined by our trials.

Genesis 36

The generations of Esau are set forth

Summarize Genesis 36:1–43 by explaining that the descendants of Esau, who was the son of Isaac and brother of Jacob, are listed in this chapter.

Genesis 37

Joseph is favored by his father, has prophetic dreams, and is sold by his brothers

Ask students to think about how they would feel if a sibling or close friend received an important award; was selected for an athletic team, band, orchestra, or choir; or performed the best in his or her class on an exam.

  • What are some ways a person might feel about someone else’s good fortune in these situations?

  • What is the danger of feeling envious or jealous of others who experience good fortune?

Invite students to consider, as they study Genesis 37, the dangers of feeling hatred or envy toward others.

Invite a student to read Genesis 37:1–4 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for how Jacob treated his son Joseph and how Joseph’s brothers reacted. (You may need to explain that the phrase “could not speak peaceably unto him” means they could not be friendly or desire any happiness for him.) Ask students to report what they found.

Ask two students to come to the board. Invite a few other students to take turns reading aloud from Genesis 37:5–11. As the students read, ask one student at the board to draw a picture depicting Joseph’s first dream (verses 7–8). Invite the second student to draw a picture depicting Joseph’s second dream (verses 9–10). (To help students understand these verses, you may need to explain the following: Sheaves are bundles of wheat. To make obeisance means to bow down before a superior to show deep respect. To rebuke is to correct or reprimand. To observe, in this context, means to consider and reflect.)

  • According to verses 8 and 11, how did Joseph’s brothers react to his dreams?

  • What does it mean to envy someone?

Invite a student to read Genesis 37:12–14 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what Jacob asked Joseph to do. Invite students to report what they found.

Ask a few students to take turns reading aloud from Genesis 37:18–22. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what Joseph’s brothers considered doing with him because of their envy.

  • What did the brothers’ envy lead them to consider doing?

Ask a student to read Genesis 37:23–28 aloud. Invite the class to follow along, looking for what Joseph’s brothers ultimately did with him.

  • What sins did the hatred and envy of Joseph’s brothers lead them to commit?

  • What is a principle we can learn from this account about the dangers of choosing to hate or envy others? (The following is one principle students may identify: Choosing to hate or envy others can lead us to commit additional sins. You may want to write this principle on the board.)

To help students understand this principle, ask:

  • What have you seen hatred and envy lead people to do in our day?

  • When others have possessions, talents, or attention that we would like to have, how can we avoid feelings of hatred and envy toward them? (You may want to write students’ responses on the board.)

Explain that this principle is further illustrated by what Joseph’s brothers did after they sold him. Summarize Genesis 37:29–36 by explaining that when Reuben returned to the pit and found that Joseph was gone, he rent, or tore, his clothes, thereby manifesting intense grief or distress. Despite the grief Reuben felt, however, Reuben and his brothers dipped Joseph’s coat in animal blood and gave it to their father. Jacob assumed that Joseph had been killed by a wild animal. He mourned deeply, putting on sackcloth, which was clothing worn in times of sorrow. Once in Egypt, Joseph was sold to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officers.

  • What additional sins did Joseph’s brothers commit in this situation?

  • What feelings do you think Joseph’s brothers might have had when they saw their father’s reaction?

Ask students to think about situations in their lives that might present a temptation to feel hatred or envy toward someone else. Invite them to prepare a plan for what they will do to avoid feeling hatred or envy toward another person if the temptation arises.

Testify that as we keep our hearts free from hatred and envy toward others, we will be blessed.

Commentary and Background Information

Genesis 37:3–4. A “coat of many colours”

“There is some question as to what Joseph’s coat actually was. The Hebrew word denotes ‘a long coat with sleeves … i.e. an upper coat reaching to the wrists and ankles, such as noblemen and kings’ daughters wore’ (Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary, 1:1:335; note also 2 Samuel 13:18, which says that the daughters of King David wore similar coats). The coat may have been of different colors, but its significance seems to have been far more than its brightness and beauty. One noted scholar suggested that it was ‘a tunic reaching to the palms of the hands and soles of the feet; the long tunic with sleeves worn by young men and maidens of the better class; in the case of Joseph, supposed by Bush … to have been the badge of the birthright which has been forfeited by Reuben and transferred to Joseph’ (Wilson, Old Testament Word Studies, s.v. “colour,” p. 82)” (Old Testament Student Manual: Genesis–2 Samuel, 3rd ed. [Church Educational System manual, 2003], 93). Whatever this coat looked like or represented, it was a source of jealousy and contention among Joseph’s brothers.

Genesis 37:11. Envy

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught the following about envy:

“Brothers and sisters, there are going to be times in our lives when someone else gets an unexpected blessing or receives some special recognition. May I plead with us not to be hurt—and certainly not to feel envious—when good fortune comes to another person? We are not diminished when someone else is added upon. …

“Furthermore, envy is a mistake that just keeps on giving. Obviously we suffer a little when some misfortune befalls us, but envy requires us to suffer all good fortune that befalls everyone we know! What a bright prospect that is—downing another quart of pickle juice every time anyone around you has a happy moment!” (“The Laborers in the Vineyard,” Ensign, May 2012, 31–32).

Genesis 37:4, 8, 11, 18–28. Family relationships

Joseph’s brothers envied and hated him. These feelings are counter to the righteous feelings and attitudes that God desires family members to have toward one another.

President Ezra Taft Benson taught: “Your most important friendships should be with your own brothers and sisters and with your father and mother. Love your family. Be loyal to them. Have a genuine concern for your brothers and sisters. Help carry their load” (“To the ‘Youth of the Noble Birthright,’” Ensign, May 1986, 43).

Genesis 37:36. “Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh’s, and captain of the guard”

“The Hebrew phrase which is translated as ‘captain of the guards’ literally means ‘chief of the butchers or slaughterers.’ From this meaning some scholars have thought that he was the chief cook or steward in the house of the pharaoh, but other scholars believe that butcher or slaughterer is used in the sense of executioner, and thus Potiphar was the ‘commanding officer of the royal body-guard, who executed the capital sentences ordered by the king’ (Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary, 1:1:338). Either way, Potiphar was an important man, but the latter position especially would give him great power and status in Egypt” (Old Testament Student Manual: Genesis–2 Samuel, 3rd ed. [Church Educational System manual, 2003], 94).