Who Was Joseph’s Father in the Bible?

Hebrew BibleMany people, both those belonging to Abrahamic faiths and those who do not, know the story of Joseph. In the Bible, he is an important figure in the Book of Genesis. His story is also important in the Jewish faith as well as in the Islamic faith. The story has inspired many works of art, ranging from novels and poetry to movies and the popular musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. But who was Joseph’s father, in the Bible and the other traditions? His name was Jacob.

[If you want to truly understand biblical history and traditions, read here my article on biblical language study.]

Who Was Jacob?

Jacob is one of the three patriarchs of the Israelites. His is the son of Isaac and the grandson of Abraham. He has 12 sons who are the heads of the 12 Tribes of Israel. As such, he is one of the most important figures in the Hebrew tradition. Jacob and his twin brother Esau are born to Isaac and his wife Rebecca when Isaac is 60, after 20 years of childless marriage.

Rebecca has a difficult pregnancy and is told in a prophecy that the twins are fighting, that they will forever be fighting, and that the younger would surpass and rule over the older. When the twins are born, Esau is born first and he is followed by Jacob who is holding onto Esau’s heel. The name Jacob, in Hebrew, comes from the word for “heel” and has a double meaning: “to follow” but also “to supplant”.

When Jacob and his brother are adults and their father, blind in his old age and close to death, goes to bestow his blessing and pass on the birthright to Esau, Rebecca blesses Jacob and has him go in Esau’s place to receive Isaac’s blessing. Rebecca covers Jacob in goat skins and Esau’s clothes and sends him to his father.

His father is not convinced at first, as he hears Jacob’s voice, but he is eventually convinced by the fur (it feels like Esau’s hairy skin) and the smell of Esau’s clothing that Jacob is Esau. Jacob receives the blessing instead of Esau and has the family birthright bestowed upon him.

Jacob’s Ladder and Fathering the Tribes of Israel

Esau is extremely angry and plans to kill Jacob once their father dies. Rebecca discovers this plan and sends Jacob to her brother’s house. While traveling, Jacob receives a vision of a ladder that reaches the heavens. He hears the voice of God and is given many blessings. The ladder is said to signify the exile that the Jews would later suffer before the coming of their Messiah.

Angels, signifying different exiles of Jews, climb up a certain number of steps to show the number of years of exile before they fall down the ladder. The last angel keeps climbing up into the clouds. Jacob is fearful that this means his descendants will never escape exile, will never be free of Esau dominating over them, but God tells him that the last angel will eventually fall and end the exile, at the End of Days. Jacob awakens the next morning and gives a name to the place where he spent the night: Bethel.

When Jacob gets to his uncle Laban’s house, he meets Laban’s daughter Rachel and falls in love with her. Laban promises that if Jacob works for him for seven years, he can marry Rachel. When the seven years are over and the time comes to marry Rachel, Laban deceives Jacob by putting the bridal veil over Leah’s, his older daughter, face. Jacob is thus married to Leah instead.

Laban says that Jacob will have to work another seven years in order to marry Rachel. During this time period, God “opens Leah’s womb” and she gives birth to many sons in rapid succession. After Jacob marries Rachel, they discover that she is barren. She offers her handmaiden to Jacob so that he may have children by her for Rachel to raise. Leah also offers her handmaiden and Jacob has more sons with the two handmaidens. After many years and 11 sons, Rachel is finally blessed by God and gives birth to her first child, Joseph.

Joseph's Father in the Bible, Jacob, Wrestles with the Angel (Gen. 32:24-32)
Jacob Wrestles with the Angel (Gen. 32:24-32). Doré’s English Bible

Many years later, Jacob eventually makes a trip to return to his parents’ home, where his brother Esau is. When Jacob is returning to his home in Canaan, after years of exile out with his mother’s brother, he stops to spend the night along a riverside. He meets a man who initiates a wrestling match that lasts until dawn.

At the end of the wrestling match, Jacob is victorious and demands a blessing from the man, who is God. Jacob is renamed Israel which means “one who wrestles with God”. Jacob, now Israel, names the place where he wrestled this “man” Penuel which means “facing God”. After wrestling God and returning to Canaan, he is able to peacefully reunite with his brother Esau.

Who Was Joseph?

Joseph is a figure in the Book of Genesis in the Bible and his story is also featured prominently in the Torah. He is considered to be an important prophet by Muslims as well, with a whole chapter of the Qu’ran being devoted to his story. Joseph was the son of Jacob and his second wife Rachel: the 11th son for Jacob and Rachel’s first child.

In the story, he is considered something of a miracle child as it was thought that Rachel may not be able to conceive. From the day of his birth, he is shown obvious favoritism over his older brothers. He is given a long, beautiful coat of many colors to represent this.

When Joseph is 17, he has a prophetic dream in which he and his brothers all gather up bundles of grain. The grain his brothers gather bows down to the one Joseph gathers. He also has a second dream in which the sun, moon, and eleven stars, representing his father, mother, and brothers, bow down to Joseph. These dreams seemed to imply that Joseph would rule over his family and this angered his brothers, who were already filled with jealousy over him being the apparent favorite.

His brothers begin a plot to murder Joseph. They lead him away from their home in order to act out their plan. At the suggestion of his brother Reuben, they throw him into an empty water vessel and when a caravan taking spices to Egypt passes through, they sell him to the merchants as a slave. They take Joseph’s coat and bring it back to Jacob, covered in animal blood. Jacob then believes Joseph to be dead.

Who Was Joseph’s Father in the Bible? Joseph's Coat Brought to Jacob by Giovanni Andrea de Ferrari, c. 1640
Joseph’s Coat Brought to Jacob
by Giovanni Andrea de Ferrari, c. 1640

Joseph is later sold to the captain of the Pharaoh’s guard. He excels at his duties and is made Potiphar’s personal servant and later he becomes the superintendent over all the servants of the house. Joseph is said to be extremely handsome and Potiphar’s wife attempts to seduce him. When he refuses, she falsely accuses him of rape out of anger at the rejection and he is sent to prison.

While in prison, Joseph is put in charge of the other prisoners. He meets both the cup-bearer and chief baker to the Pharaoh, who has been put in prison for offending the Pharaoh. The two of them come to Joseph with dreams that he is able to interpret. He tells the cup-bearer that his dream of three branches that bear fruit he eventually squeezes into a cup for the Pharaoh mean that he will be released and sent back to his duties in three days.

The baker is not so lucky, as he has a dream in which three baskets of bread are being eaten by birds. Joseph tells the baker that in three days time he will be hung. The cup-bearer says that he will mention Joseph to Pharaoh once he is released but he quickly forgets his promise once he is out of prison. He ends up making good on it two years later, however, when the Pharaoh’s advisors fail to interpret a dream for him and the cup-bearer tells Pharaoh about Joseph.

The Pharaoh had a dream in which seven starved-looking cows eat seven fat cows and Joseph interpreted this to mean that Egypt would experience seven years of abundance followed by seven years of famine. Joseph advised the Pharaoh to begin storing grain in order to make it through the famine. Due to this, Joseph becomes the highest official to serve the Pharaoh, a Vizier. He oversees the building of storage houses for the grain and produce that is stored throughout the seven years of abundance.

During the famine, people from nations surrounding Egypt were also hit. They began coming to Egypt to buy bread and other goods. Joseph’s brothers end up going to Egypt to buy food during the second year of the famine. Joseph recognizes his brothers immediately but they do not recognize him. He meets them and accuses them of being spies. They say that they have a younger brother at home they need to bring the food back to.

He puts them in prison for three days and then demands they bring their youngest brother, Joseph’s full-brother Benjamin, to Egypt to show that they are not lying. He takes his brother Simeon as a hostage and sends them back to their home. The brothers return with Benjamin and are treated with hospitality and feasting by Joseph and his household.

When they are set to leave, Joseph places a silver cup in Benjamin’s bag. The cup is found to be “missing” and the brothers’ belongings are searched. Joseph, the Vizier, then demands that whoever’s bag the cup was found in must stay behind and become his slave as punishment for stealing. His brother Judah asks to be taken in Benjamin’s stead so that he may return home to his parents.

Joseph Recognized by His Brothers (1863 painting by Léon Pierre Urbain Bourgeois)
Joseph Recognized by His Brothers (1863 painting by Léon Pierre Urbain Bourgeois)

Joseph is overcome with emotion and sees that his brothers have changed and they have repented for what they did to Joseph and he reveals himself to be their lost brother. He tells them that their betrayal was planned by God, that his being sold was necessary for the survival of their family during the time of famine. His family then ends up joining him in Egypt and they are all held in high regard by the Pharaoh.

Why Is Joseph Important?

Joseph and his brothers eventually become the heads of the 12 tribes of Israel. They were all raised by Jacob to continue on the work of the Jewish faith, to follow in the footsteps of their forefathers and dedicate themselves to God. The reason behind the intense jealousy of Joseph’s brothers is in many ways because they felt they might be pushed out of this familial duty and they would not reap the rewards of eternity. Both Jacob and his father had brothers who did not continue down this path and they felt that the favoritism shown to Joseph meant that he would be the only one who would be able to continue their father’s legacy. They were wrong, however.

Years later, when they are threatened with losing their brother Benjamin, they realize that their family is a tribe, a nation and that they must work together, even if they have different gifts. What belongs to one of them truly belongs to all as they are all the nation of Israel.

Why Is Jacob Important?

Mosaic of the 12 Tribes of Israel. From Givat Mordechai Etz Yosef synagogue facade, in Jerusalem
Mosaic of the 12 Tribes of Israel. From Givat Mordechai Etz Yosef synagogue facade, in Jerusalem

As the father of the 12 sons who eventually become the patriarchs of the 12 Tribes of Israel, Jacob is vital to the existence of the Israelites. Jacob’s ladder also shows the continued exile of the Jews, in and out of many nations as the nation of Israel is scattered all around.

Without Jacob, there would be no Israel. Without Jacob, there would be no Joseph to bring Israel into Egypt and to save Egypt and the surrounding nations from famine. He and his sons are some of, if not the most important figures in the Hebrew tradition and are also highly regarded in the Christian tradition as well as in the Muslim tradition. Jacob is the key to founding the nation of God’s chosen people.

Jacob’s exile from his parent’s home, due to his brother’s anger, is also representative of the exile the Jewish people would later experience, just as his son Joseph’s exile from his family and then from Potiphar’s house when he is in prison is representative of the exile of the Jews.

Joseph’s Father in the Bible

Who was Joseph’s father in the Bible? So much more than just Joseph’s father. He is the patriarch of an entire nation, a figure who is important in his own right, outside of being the father of such a widely known figure. In the traditions his story comes from, without him, there would be no Israel, as he is Israel and his sons are the tribes that make up his nation.

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