“Unit 7: Day 4, Genesis 38–39,” Old Testament Study Guide for Home-Study Seminary Students (2014)
“Unit 7: Day 4,” Old Testament Study Guide
Genesis 38 and 39 present contrasting experiences from the lives of two of Jacob’s sons, Judah and Joseph. Genesis 38 gives an account of Judah’s wickedness. Conversely, Genesis 39 illustrates Joseph’s righteousness and shows how the Lord prospered him in all circumstances.
As you study Genesis 38–39, you will learn about two brothers—Judah and Joseph—who made very different choices when they were in tempting situations. Consider what you can learn from the choices of these two brothers.
- Draw two columns on a page in your scripture study journal. Label one column Judah, and label the other column Joseph. You will be writing in this chart throughout this lesson.
Genesis 38:1–11 tells us that after Joseph’s brothers sold him to the Ishmaelite and Midianite merchants, one of Joseph’s older brothers, Judah, married a Canaanite woman (a daughter of Shuah). Judah and his wife had three sons together: Er, Onan, and Shelah.
The oldest son (Er) married a woman named Tamar, but he died before they had children. In the ancient world, having children was important, and not having children would have meant a poorer quality of life for Tamar. According to the customary law at that time, women had claim on their husband’s next oldest brother or his closest male living relative, who, if asked by the woman, was obligated to marry the widow and raise up seed, or have children. This practice is known as “Levirate marriage” (see Bible Dictionary). Onan married Tamar, but for selfish reasons he was unwilling to have children with Tamar. Onan died for his wickedness. Judah then promised Tamar that Shelah could be her husband when he was grown.
However, when Shelah was old enough, Judah did not keep his promise to Tamar. Rather than resolving her marriage claim in the proper manner, Tamar resorted to deception in order to bear children by Judah, who had the responsibility to provide a husband and children for her.
Read Genesis 38:13–18, looking for choices that Tamar and Judah made.
Tamar decided to hold Judah responsible for her future marriage, children, and inheritance and to fulfill his part of the law of the time, and she took matters into her own hands rather than trust in the Lord to help her. Tamar’s choice to pretend to be a harlot so she could become pregnant by Judah violated the law of chastity. Tamar knew that her actions might have serious consequences, such as being sentenced to death. By requesting Judah’s signet (an official seal used to give personal authority), bracelets, and staff, Tamar gathered evidence to show who the father of her child was in the event that she was sentenced to death by Judah. These three personal items—particularly the signet, which contained an emblem unique to the owner and was used to designate authority, honor, or ownership—showed that Judah was the father. Although Tamar’s motives to have children by those who were responsible for her may have been acceptable according to the customs of that time, the deceptive means she used were wrong.
How did Judah respond to temptation? In the chart in your scripture study journal, in the column titled “Judah,” write what you learned about Judah.
In Genesis 38:19–23 we read that Judah sent his friend with a kid (a young goat) to pay the woman he thought was a harlot and to retrieve his signet, bracelets, and staff, but his friend could not find her. At this point, Judah still did not realize that the woman was actually his daughter-in-law, Tamar.
Why do you think Judah sent his friend to pay the woman and did not go himself?
Write the following statement in the column for Judah: He tried to keep his sin a secret.
Read Genesis 38:24–26, and discover what happened three months later.
Write the following statement in the column for Judah: He felt humiliated when his sin was exposed.
Notice that Judah finally confessed his wrongdoing and acknowledged that Tamar had been “more righteous” than he had been (Genesis 38:26). The account of Judah and Tamar shows the lineage from which the Messiah would eventually come (see Matthew 1:1–3; Luke 3:23, 33). This helps us understand that a person’s ancestry does not determine his or her righteousness.
Read Genesis 39:1–2 to discover what happened to Joseph after he was sold to the Ishmaelite and Midianite merchants. You may want to mark the phrase “the Lord was with Joseph, and he was a prosperous man” in verse 2.
Read Genesis 39:3–6, looking for how the Lord blessed and prospered Joseph. You may want to mark what you find.
The phrase “goodly person and well favoured” in verse 6 means that Joseph was kind and handsome.
As you read Genesis 39:8–9, look for how Joseph responded to Potiphar’s wife. (Genesis 39:9 is a scripture mastery verse. You may want to mark it in a distinctive way so you will be able to locate it easily.)
According to the Joseph Smith Translation, “wotteth not” (verse 8) means “knoweth not.” Joseph was explaining to Potiphar’s wife that Potiphar trusted him greatly.
Ponder how Joseph’s words in verse 9 show his commitment and devotion to God. One principle we learn from this verse is that our devotion to God gives us strength to resist temptation.
- Answer the following questions in your scripture study journal:
What are some things you can do to develop strong devotion to God like Joseph had?
How has your devotion to God helped you to resist temptation?
Read the following statement by President Ezra Taft Benson, who explained Joseph’s priorities:
“When we put God first, all other things fall into their proper place or drop out of our lives. Our love of the Lord will govern the claims for our affection, the demands on our time, the interests we pursue, and the order of our priorities.
“We should put God ahead of everyone else in our lives. …
“When Joseph was forced to choose, he was more anxious to please God than to please his employer’s wife. When we are required to choose, are we more anxious to please God than our boss, our teacher, our neighbor, or our date?” (“The Great Commandment—Love the Lord,” Ensign, May 1988, 4–5).
Read Genesis 39:10, looking for how often Joseph faced temptation from Potiphar’s wife.
Write the following statement in the column of the chart under “Joseph”: He resisted temptation day after day.
Read Genesis 39:11–12, looking for what Joseph did when Potiphar’s wife became more demanding. You may want to mark what you find.
Why was it wise for Joseph to run out of the house in this situation?
What can you learn from Joseph about what to do when you find yourself in tempting situations?
One principle we can learn from Joseph’s example is that if we remove ourselves from tempting situations, then we will have greater ability to resist temptation. You may want to write this principle in your scriptures.
One way to remove ourselves from tempting situations is to do all we can to avoid those situations. As you read the following statement, underline counsel that you feel you need to apply more fully in your life.
“Never do anything that could lead to sexual transgression. Treat others with respect, not as objects used to satisfy lustful and selfish desires. Before marriage, do not participate in passionate kissing, lie on top of another person, or touch the private, sacred parts of another person’s body, with or without clothing. Do not do anything else that arouses sexual feelings. Do not arouse those emotions in your own body. Pay attention to the promptings of the Spirit so that you can be clean and virtuous. …
“Avoid situations that invite increased temptation, such as late-night or overnight activities away from home or activities where there is a lack of adult supervision. Do not participate in discussions or any media that arouse sexual feelings. Do not participate in any type of pornography. The Spirit can help you know when you are at risk and give you the strength to remove yourself from the situation. Have faith in and be obedient to the righteous counsel of your parents and leaders” (For the Strength of Youth [booklet, 2011], 36).
Make a choice now to live this counsel so you can be protected from sin.
Read Genesis 39:13–20 to learn what happened after Joseph fled from Potiphar’s house.
Write the following statement on your chart under “Joseph”: He was falsely accused of sin.
- Write the sentence “How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” on a piece of paper, and carry it with you throughout the day so you can review it frequently. Try to memorize it so that you can think or say these words when you face temptation. After you have done this, write the statement from memory in your scripture study journal.
Have you ever experienced painful or difficult consequences after choosing to do what is right?
Although it may have been painful or difficult for Joseph to be cast into prison for a crime he did not commit, being in prison allowed him to escape further temptation from Potiphar’s wife.
Read Genesis 39:21–23, looking for additional ways Joseph was blessed while in prison.
You may want to mark the phrase “the Lord was with Joseph” in verse 21. On the chart in your scripture study journal, in the column under “Joseph,” write The Lord blessed and prospered him because of his righteousness.
Complete the following principle based on what you learned from Joseph’s experience: If we , then the Lord will be with us and help us.
- Complete the following assignments in your scripture study journal:
Summarize the differences between Judah’s and Joseph’s responses to temptation and the short- and long-term consequences of their choices.
Think about the temptations you face. Complete the following statement with those temptations in mind: I will follow Joseph’s example by …
- Write the following at the bottom of today’s assignments in your scripture study journal:
I have studied Genesis 38–39 and completed this lesson on (date).
Additional questions, thoughts, and insights I would like to share with my teacher: