28-36: The Story of Jacob
In ch. 28 Jacob is sent away from the family to get a wife from his own people. On the way, he has a vision from God in which God renews the promise to Jacob. Chs. 29-31 recount Jacob’s interactions with his father-in-law Laban; both are tricksters and continually try to outfox each other repeatedly. In the end Jacob sneaks away partly because he has become highly prosperous because of Laban and fears retaliation, and partly because Laban continually cheats him. In ch. 32 Jacob comes to grips with his upcoming reunion with his brother Esau, and wrestles all night with a divine visitor seeking his blessing. This encounter proves to be a defining landmark, gaining Jacob the new name Israel and a more mature trust in God.
After a tense but ultimately peaceful reunion with Esau, Jacob continues his journeys, and has a total of 12 sons by his two wives and two concubines. In ch. 35 God confirms Jacob’s new name, Israel, and once again renews the promise to him. With a genealogy in ch. 36 we transition again to focus on the next generation.
37-50: The Story of Joseph and His Brothers
With some asides, (e.g. ch. 38, which relates a story about Joseph’s older brother Judah) the end of Genesis tells the remarkable story of Joseph, Israel’s favorite son. Due to the the disproportionate affection Israel lavishes on him, and Joseph’s unwise disclosure of some extremely arrogant-seeming dreams, Joseph’s brothers grow jealous and sell him into slavery in Egypt in ch. 37.
In ch. 38 he demonstrates such skill and wisdom as the slave of a powerful man that he gains high position and recognition, but then is falsely accused of seducing his master’s wife and imprisoned. After once again demonstrating great value and gaining responsibility even within the prison, he gains an opportunity for freedom when God grants him the power to interpret a troubling dream of Pharaoh, the leader of Egypt. His insight gains him a position as second-in-command over the whole nation of Egypt in ch. 41.
Shortly thereafter an international famine sends his brothers to Egypt to buy grain. Chs. 42-47 relate the dramatic and poignant story of how Joseph, unrecognized by his brothers, tests them to see if their jealousy and selfishness have changed, and in the end reveals himself as Joseph and forgives them. The book of Genesis ends with Israel’s whole extended family moving down to settle in Egypt, Israel’s prophecies over his twelve sons, and the deaths of Israel and Joseph in the land of Egypt, with Joseph at the end predicting Israel’s eventual return to Canaan, the promised land.