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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Dictionary of Texts

Genesis 37

Verses 1-36

Joseph and His Brethren

Genesis 37:0

With the story of Joseph we come to the last division of Genesis. The development and progress of the household of Jacob, until at length it became a nation in Egypt, had Joseph as a pioneer. The fullness of the narrative is worthy of consideration. There is a fourfold value and importance in the record of Joseph's life. (1) It gives the explanation of the development of the Hebrews. (2) It is a remarkable proof of the quiet operation of Divine Providence overruling evil, and leading at length to the complete victory of truth and righteousness. (3) It affords a splendid example of personal character. (4) It provides a striking series of typical illustrations of Christ. Joseph exemplifies the testing and triumph of faith.

I. Joseph's Home Life. Joseph was the child of Jacob's later life, and escaped all the sad experiences associated with the earlier years at Haran. His companions were his half-brothers, the grown-up sons of Bilhab and Zilpah. From all that we have hitherto seen of them they must have been utterly unfit companions for such a youth. The difference between the elder brethren and Joseph was accentuated by the fact that 'Joseph brought unto his father the evil report of his brethren'. It is sometimes thought that Joseph is blameworthy for telling tales, but there does not seem any warrant for regarding him as a mere spy. There was, however, something much more than this to account for the differences between Joseph and his brethren. The gift of a coat of many colours (or pieces), or rather the 'tunic with sleeves,' was about the most significant act that Jacob could have shown to Joseph. It was a mark of distinction that carried its own meaning, for it implied that exemption from labour which was the peculiar privilege of the heir or prince of the Eastern clan. And so when his brethren saw these marks of special favour, 'they hated him, and could not speak peaceably unto him'.

II. Joseph's Dreams. The hatred of the brothers was soon intensified through the dreams that Joseph narrated to them. They were natural in form as distinct from any Divine vision, and yet they were clearly prophetic of Joseph's future glory.

III. In the Course of their Work as Shepherds Jacob's Elder Sons went to Shechem. It is not surprising that Israel wished to know how it fared with his sons and with his flocks. He therefore commands Joseph to take the journey of inquiry. The promptness and thoroughness of obedience on the part of Joseph is very characteristic of him. It has often and truly been pointed out that Joseph seems to have combined all the best qualities of his ancestors the capacity of Abraham, the quietness of Isaac, the ability of Jacob.

IV. Joseph's Brethren. The conspiracy was all very simply but quite cleverly concocted, every point was met, the wild beast and the ready explanation. They shrank from slaying but not from enslaving their brother.

V. The Outcome. Reuben seems to have been away when the proposal to sell Joseph was made and carried out. People are often away when they are most needed. They carried out their ideas with great thoroughness. Jacob refused to be consoled. We cannot fail to note the unutterable grief of the aged patriarch. There was no expression of submission to the will of God, and no allusion to the new name Israel in the narrative.

W. H. Griffith Thomas, A Devotional Commentary, p. 3.

References. XXXVII. F. W. Robertson, Notes on Genesis, p. 135. XXXVII. 1-11. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Genesis, p. 234. XXXVII. 3. J. Vaughan, Sermons to Children (4th Series), p. 317.

Third Sunday in Lent

Genesis 37:18

We will divide this subject into two parts. First of all, let us consider it from the point of view of the brethren, and then as it concerns Joseph.

I. The Attitude of the Brothers. 1. A distinction without a difference. First of all, notice the distinction these men draw between actual murder and casting him into this pit and letting him die there. Do you know, we are sometimes inclined to draw the same distinction in our conduct towards people? Are there not a great many men and women who would rather cut off their right hand than take the life of another, though they will make the life of that other a living death? Put forth their hand to slay a brother? Not so; but by their words day by day, and by their conduct day by day, they will make the life of that friend, that one who perhaps should be very near and dear to them, a misery by unkind words and insinuations and suggestions, by unkind, thoughtless, careless conduct. And what of our relation to our Lord? There are many people who will not boldly throw Him over by joining the ranks of the atheists, who yet bring grief and sorrow and pain to His loving heart day after day.

2. Willing to receive gifts. Notice also that these brethren were quite willing to receive the gifts brought by their brother Joseph, and yet cast him into the pit. Can you find anywhere a scene of greater callousness and cruelty than this scene? Again let us take care lest we do the same.

3. Evil minds find evil everywhere. And then, while thinking of the brethren, notice how evil minds will always find evil, noisome, pestilent food wherever they come. What possible temptation to any man could be a caravan of merchantmen on their way down to traffic? and yet here are these brethren with minds bent on evil, falling under the temptation to wrongdoing found in such an innocent thing as a caravan of men going down to Egypt.

II. Lessons from Joseph. Now let us turn our thoughts for a few minutes to Joseph; we may learn three very useful lessons from this incident.

1. Life is not easy. First notice that life is not a very easy thing after all. Here is Joseph, no doubt as bright and beautiful a specimen of a boy as you would wish to see anywhere, full of good resolutions, full of high ideals, realizing God's blessing within him, realizing God's gifts and power working and expanding and growing within him. I suppose he thought that he was going to sweep away all difficulty, and then suddenly there comes this terrible thing, this awful difficulty. I suppose we all start more or less like Joseph started, thinking that we are going to make something of life, and that we are going, whatever happens to other people, straight ahead. But disillusionment comes before very long. There comes an awakening, and we find that life is a way beset with briars and thorns, that there are difficulties and dangers.

2. Difficulties meant to strengthen. Here we learn that all these difficulties and trials of life are not sent to destroy but to strengthen. They are sent in the way of attainment. Joseph had a great life-work before him. He was to become ruler of a mighty nation, to save the life of a nation. He must be prepared for that work by the suffering, the toil, and the trial. Let us lay hold of that thought for our comfort. God wants you to do some great work in the world, not great perhaps as the world counts greatness, but some great and good work for Him. He wants your life to be a useful, noble, and true life, and the way he fits it is by trial, difficulty, danger, that you may be taught where strength is to be found, how truly to make life noble and successful.

S. No true life except by death. We learn finally that there is no true life except by death. Joseph had to learn many bitter lessons in the dark and slimy pit. He had to learn that good resolutions and high resolves are not sufficient. God requires that you and I should die to ourselves and live unto Him.

References. XXXVII. 19. H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, Sunday Lessons, vol. i. p. 249. XXXVII. 23-36. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Genesis, p. 240. XXXVII. 26. A. G. Mortimer, The Church's Lessons, vol. ii. p. 269. XXXVII. 28. J. Banstead, Practical Sermons, vol. i. p. 32. XXXIX. 2. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxvii. No. 1610. M. Biggs, Practical Sermons on Old Testament Subjects, p. 74. XXXIX. 8,9. J. T. Bramston, Sermons to Boys, p. 109.

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Genesis 37". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/edt/genesis-37.html. 1910.