The Story of Joseph
1-2This is the story of the family of Jacob, who had settled in the land of Canaan, where his father Isaac had lived as an immigrant. # 37:1–2 According to the Genesis chronologies, Isaac was alive during the events of this chapter and would have been one hundred and sixty-eight. Jacob was one hundred and eight when Joseph was sold into slavery. See JPS Torah Commentary: Genesis, Nahum Sarna.
Jacob’s son Joseph was seventeen, and he served his older half brothers, the sons of his father’s wives Bilhah and Zilpah, helping them watch over the flocks. One day Joseph went to his father with a bad report about their behavior. # 37:1–2 Although we are not told exactly what the “bad report” contained, Joseph’s brothers saw him as a tattle-tale and trouble maker. He may have exaggerated or slandered his brothers to his father.
3Now Israel’s love for Joseph surpassed that for his other sons because he was born to him in his old age. # 37:3 Jacob was ninety-one when Joseph was born. Joseph and his baby brother Benjamin were the only two sons Jacob had with his beloved Rachel. So Israel had made him a richly ornamented robe. # 37:3 Or “a coat of many colors” (LXX, Vulgate), a long-sleeved tunic that went down to his feet. Most tunics worn by men would only go down to the knees and were often made without sleeves. This robe was not something one would wear at work but was considered to be a robe of special significance for a prince. The same Hebrew word is found in 2 Sam. 13:18 referring to the robe of a princess. Fully aware of what happened with parental favoritism between him and his brother Esau, Jacob still lavished preference upon Joseph. It is possible that Jacob was designating Joseph as the royal priest of his family, thus bypassing Reuben, the firstborn, and planting seeds of angry jealousy in the hearts of all his half brothers. 4When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father loved him more than he loved them, they hated him and would not speak a kind word to him. # 37:4 Or possibly, “they pushed aside every attempt by Joseph to be friendly.” See Shadal; cf. Tanh. B. Gen. 180.
5One night Joseph had a dream, and when he shared it with his brothers, they hated him even more! 6“Listen to this dream I had,” he told them. 7“There we were, binding sheaves of grain in the field. Suddenly, my sheaf rose up and stood upright. Then your sheaves gathered around mine and bowed down to mine!” 8His brothers asked him, “Oh, so you think you’re going to be our king? Do you actually think you’re destined to rule over us?” So, the dream that he told them about made them hate him even more.
9Then another night he had a dream, and he shared it with his brothers, # 37:9 The Septuagint adds “and he shared it with his father.” saying, “Listen, I had another dream. This time, the sun and moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” # 37:9 These dreams had a major influence on Joseph’s life from that day forward. If you had a dream about the stars of heaven bowing down to you, do you not think it would affect you? Joseph behaved with excellence because he saw himself as a “star.” When you understand what motivated young Joseph, you will understand the true significance of the following chapters. 10When his father and brothers heard it, his father scolded him, “What kind of dream is that? Do you really think that I, and your mother, and your brothers are going to come and bow to the ground before you?” 11So his brothers grew more jealous of him, but his father kept pondering Joseph’s dream. # 37:11 Even though the sheaves, stars, sun, and moon would all bow down to Joseph, his family missed it! They were “sheaves” and “stars,” not thorns and snakes. Everyone in the family would be favored. The sheaves of grain were Jacob’s sons. They were God’s crop on the earth—a ripened, harvested crop. They were stars, bright lights shining in the heavens. Instead of provoking his brothers to jealousy, this dream could have brought them joy over God’s mercy to them as a family. The second dream spoke of government. God informed Joseph through the symbols of the sun, moon, and stars that the government would be given to Joseph one day. In Gen. 1:16–18 the lights of the sky were to “rule” the day and “rule” the night. These governing bodies bowing down to Joseph spoke of the great authority he would one day be given over his brothers. This second dream is much like the vision in Rev. 12:1–2. The woman clothed with the sun signifies God’s people (bride), with the moon under her feet and the crown of twelve stars on her head. We must see God’s church as ready to give birth to a corporate expression of Christ as his Body on the earth. From the standpoint of eternity, God sees us all as sheaves full of life and stars full of light. Although the sons of Jacob sinned, Christ still came through them (see Gen. 38:27–30; Matt. 1:1–3). The jealous brothers had no faith in Joseph’s dreams, but Jacob, having been broken by God, kept the matter in his heart, for even Jacob had received messages from God in dreams.
Joseph Sold by His Brothers
12One day, when his brothers had gone to Shechem to care for their father’s flock, 13Israel called for Joseph and said to him, “Your brothers are grazing the flocks near Shechem. I want you to go join them.”
“Yes, Father, I’ll go.” Joseph replied.
14Jacob added, “Go find out how your brothers are doing with the flocks and bring word back to me.” So, his father sent him off from the valley of Hebron. # 37:14 Shechem is at least a four-day walk from the valley of Hebron. Joseph left Hebron (which means “fellowship”) to visit his brothers. Jesus left the fellowship of heaven to reveal his Father’s love to those who killed him out of jealousy. Joseph’s life story is a vivid preview of the life of Christ.
When Joseph arrived at Shechem 15and began to roam the countryside looking for his brothers, a man approached him and asked, “What are you looking for?”
16“I’m looking for my brothers, who are taking care of their flock,” he answered. “Please tell me, do you know where they are?”
17The man replied, # 37:17 Who was this man who directed Joseph to Dothan? Was it an angel? Perhaps. It was God’s hand that led Joseph into this encounter with his angry brothers. God began the process of exalting Joseph through this encounter. God would send him ahead of his brothers into Egypt (see Ps. 105:16–23). “They’ve left here already. I overheard them mention that they were going to Dothan.” So, Joseph took off to catch up with his brothers and found them at Dothan. # 37:17 Dothan, the home of Elisha, means “two wells.” Dothan is about a day’s walk from Shechem.
18As he was still a long distance away, the brothers recognized him by his robe, and by the time he reached them, they had plotted together to kill him. 19They said to each other, “Here comes this dream expert. # 37:19 Or “lord dreamer” or “master dreamer.” 20Let’s kill him # 37:20 His brothers scorned him for his gift and hated him for his dreams. They could not endure the thought of bowing down to a younger brother that was more favored than they were. Rather than bow down to Joseph, they sought to kill him. See Prov. 29:10. and throw his body into one of these dry wells. We can say that a wild animal ate him. Then we’ll see how his dreams turn out!”
21When Reuben heard of this, he tried to save Joseph’s life. “Don’t take his life,” he said. 22“No bloodshed! Let’s throw him into this pit in the middle of nowhere, but don’t hurt him.” Reuben said these things because he planned to return later to rescue Joseph and take him back to his father. # 37:22 Reuben was Jacob’s firstborn and would have had the responsibility of representing his father’s interests.
23When Joseph finally caught up with his brothers, they seized him, stripped him of his ornamented robe, his beautiful full-length robe, 24and threw him into the dry, empty pit. # 37:24 If we will remain faithful in a time of betrayal, we will be restored and wear the favor-garment once again. Joseph’s life was really a series of three robes: the “robe of favor” given to him by Jacob and taken by his jealous brothers, the “stolen robe” that Potiphar’s wife ripped from him to falsely accuse him, and the “royal robe” of reigning in Egypt as God’s savior for Israel. That coat of many colors had to go before God could use young Joseph. What is there in your life that must be taken from you before you can be set free to be God’s instrument?
25Afterward, the brothers sat down to eat their food. # 37:25 What callous indifference Joseph’s brothers demonstrated as they sat near the well, eating a meal! No doubt they were within earshot of Joseph’s cries, asking them for help. When they looked up, they saw a caravan of Ishmaelite merchants coming from Gilead on their way to Egypt. They had many camels loaded with myrrh, spices, and perfumes. 26Judah spoke up and said to his brothers, “What will we gain by murdering our brother and covering up his blood? # 37:26 See Job 16:18; Ezek. 24:7. 27I have an idea! Let’s sell Joseph to these Ishmaelites and not lay a hand on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh and blood.” His brothers agreed. 28And when the Midianites (also known as Ishmaelites) # 37:28 See Judg. 8:22–23; see also “Midianites” in Harper’s Bible Dictionary, page 634. came by, Joseph’s brothers lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver, # 37:28 In that day, twenty silver shekels was the going price to purchase a young male slave. See the Laws of Hammurabi, pars. 116, 214, 252; see also Lev. 27:5. Isn’t it amazing how the Lord sent the merchants from Midian at just the right time for Joseph? The Lord has ways to deliver us that are beyond our comprehension. It is ridiculous to even try to figure out how God will pull it off—he just will! Judah sold Joseph for twenty pieces of silver; Judas (Judah) sold Jesus for thirty (see Matt. 26:14–15). Whenever we devalue one another, we are selling one another, “shortchanging” one another, failing to understand a person’s true value. How could a life be sold for mere silver? If Joseph’s brothers had valued him as a sheaf or a star, they would not have sold him. and the merchants took Joseph far away to Egypt.
29Later, Reuben went to the pit, and saw that Joseph was gone. He was overcome with grief and tore his clothes. 30He went to his brothers and said, “The boy is gone! What am I going to do now?”
31Then they took Joseph’s colorful robe, killed a goat, and dipped the robe in its blood. # 37:31 This account contains significant irony, for it was goat hair that Jacob used to deceive his father Isaac. Now it was goat blood that was used to deceive the deceiver. See Gen. 27:9, 15–16. 32They took the blood-stained robe back to their father and said, “We found this. Look it over—doesn’t it belong to your son?”
33Jacob recognized it instantly and cried out, “It’s my son’s robe! Some wild animal must have killed him. My son Joseph has been torn to pieces!” # 37:33 The Hebrew text contains a powerful lament in these three words with alliteration: tarof toraf yosef. 34Overcome with grief, Jacob tore his clothes, put on sackcloth, and mourned for his son a long time. 35All his sons and daughters # 37:35 “Daughters” refers to Dinah and Jacob’s daughters-in-law. came and tried to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. He told them, “No, I will mourn for him the rest of my life, until I join my son in the realm of the dead.” # 37:35 Or “Sheol” or “the underworld.” This is the first reference to Sheol in the Bible, which refers to a place believed to be beneath the earth where departed souls exist in the gloom of death, darkness, and silence. Joseph’s father wept and wept for his son.
36Meanwhile, the Midianites took Joseph to Egypt and sold him to Potiphar, # 37:36 Potiphar means “given by the sun-god Ra” or “one who belongs to the sun-god Ra.” one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard. # 37:36 Or “the chief executioner.” He was the warden over the Egyptian penal system and, perhaps, the chief steward over Pharaoh’s affairs.
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