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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 37

Garner-Howes Baptist CommentaryGarner-Howes

Verses 1-4


Verses 1-4:

Verse 1 properly belongs with the preceding chapter. It concludes the section dealing with a summary of Esau’s history and his dwelling in Mt Seir, contrasting this with Jacob’s dwelling in the Land of Canaan.

Verse 2 begins a new section in the saga of the Chosen People.

The focus shifts to Joseph He is the one whose destiny it is to preserve Israel during their time of training in Egypt. Though the New Testament does not describe Joseph as a type of Christ, his life pictures that of Messiah in many ways. His betrayal, his humiliation, his elevation to highest dignity, preserving alive his people, and their ultimate recognition of him and their repentance, all illustrate the life and ministry of Christ.

The record of Joseph begins when he was seventeen. He was the son of Rachel, born in Padan-aram (30:24). He was a shepherd, tending Jacob’s flocks in company with the sons of Bilhah (Rachel’s maid) and Zilpah (Leah’s maid). Bilhah’s sons were Dan and Naphtali. Zilpah’s sons were Gad and Asher. Jacob’s reason for this arrangement Is not explained in the Scriptures. It may be that there was stronger jealousy toward Joseph from Leah’s six sons than from the sons of the handmaids.

The language of verse 2 implies that Joseph did not bring to Jacob any eyewitness account of his brothers’ misconduct. Rather, he repeated to his father the common rumors of a bad nature which were circulating in the district about them. This added fuel to the fires of their jealousy against Joseph. Jacob’s love for Rachel transferred to the son she bore him.

Doubtless he loved his other children, but his favorite was Joseph, who was born in his ninety-first year. Jacob did not hide his preference for Joseph over his other sons. He made and gave to Joseph a "coat of many colors," literally a "coat of ends," tunic reaching down to the arms and feet. This was a garment such as princes and other dignitaries wore. Garments such as this are pictured on monuments in Egypt, portraying people of Palestine and Syria wearing similar coats, partly colored, usually with stripes around the hem and the borders of the sleeves. It was a clear indication of Jacob’s intention to transfer the right of the first-born to Joseph His three oldest sons had demonstrated their unfitness for this position - Simeon and Levi by their conduct at Shechem, and Reuben by his moral impurity (Ge 35:22).

The coat Jacob gave to Joseph added more fuel to the fires of jealousy which smoldered in the brothers. So intense grew their hatred that they were unable to "speak peaceably" to Joseph This is a reference to the Oriental custom of greeting, "Peace be unto thee." This volatile situation was further provoked by events soon to follow.

Verses 5-8

Verses 5-8:

Joseph’s two dreams appear to be a Divine revelation of his future role. There is no indication, however, that God instructed him to tell these dreams to his brothers. Telling them would only increase their animosity toward Joseph and make life more difficult for him.

Joseph’s first dream was of a rustic setting, in which the sheaves of his brothers bowed themselves down to his sheaf, as subjects bowing before a ruler. It appears Joseph did not attempt to interpret the dream; he may have been unaware of its significance. But his brothers concluded that it denoted his desire to rule over them, and this they were unwilling to accept.

Joseph’s dream caused his jealous brothers to hate him the more.

Verses 9-11

Verses 9-11:

Joseph’s second dream was even more startling than the first. In it he saw the sun, moon, and eleven stars bowing to him in obeisance. This time he told the dream to his father, as well as to his brothers. Jacob rebuked Joseph for this dream, likely in irritation for thinking that such an unlikely event as his dream suggested could ever occur.

Joseph did not attempt to interpret this dream. Jacob saw its obvious meaning and was unable to visualize such a thing as ever happening. His reference to Joseph’s mother implies this. Rachel was already dead at this time, and it would be a manifest impossibility for her to return to bow down and worship her son. But the fulfillment of this could be that Bilhah, Rachel’s maid, stood in the stead of Rachel.

This second dream of Joseph intensified the jealousy and hatred of his brothers, with the likely exception of Benjamin who at this time was still very young. Although Jacob was irritated at Joseph, he realized that God had a special role for him to fulfill and he "observed" or kept in his mind the word or dream.

Verses 12-14

Verses 12-14:

The record does not reveal how much time elapsed between Joseph’s dreams and the events of this text. Likely it was not long, because thoughts of these dreams still rankled the brothers.

Shechem was about fifty miles from Hebron where Jacob’s family lived at this time. Jacob’s sons had left Hebron for Shechem, to pasture the flocks. This was an area which belonged to Jacob, partly by purchase (Ge 33:19), and partly by conquest (Ge 34:29). Jacob was concerned for his sons, so he sent Joseph to investigate and report back to him. Joseph readily responded to his father’s instructions and set out on his mission.

Verses 15-22

Verses 15-22:

By the time Joseph arrived in Shechem, his brothers had already left for other pastures. He met a man in his search, and asked for information about them. The man directed him to Dothan, about twelve miles to the north in the direction of the Plain of Esdraelon. It was on the caravan route from the East to Egypt.

The brothers saw Joseph from a distance. Thoughts of his dreams burned in them. In their jealousy, they conspired to kill Joseph, and report to Jacob that he had been eaten by a wild animal Reuben, the oldest, likely considered himself responsible for Joseph He privately sought for a way to deliver him. He warned the others against bloodshed, and advised that they cast Joseph into a nearby pit (a dry cistern), intending later to rescue him and return him to Jacob.

Verses 23-28

Verses 23-28:

When Joseph approached his brothers, they seized him, stripped him of his coat of "many colors" (long sleeves), and cast him into a "pit" (dry cistern) nearby. Empty cisterns were at times used as temporary prisons (Jer 38:6). Their cold-blooded brutality is apparent in their disregard for his piteous cries (Ge 41:21). Their callous unconcern is evident in their sitting down to a meal. They were quite pleased with themselves that they were rid of this upstart younger brother who aspired to rule over them, and who had in their eyes usurped their rightful inheritance.

As they ate, the brothers observed a traveling caravan of Ishmaelite merchant men approaching. These were Arabs descended from Ishmael, nomad traders, occupying the area between Egypt and Assyria (Ge 25:18). The record implies they carried on trade with Egypt. Ishmael’s descendants had by this time developed into a trading nation. Ishmael likely married at about age 20, or about 160 years before the events of this text. This meant that four generations were born in this interval. Allowing five sons to each of Ishmael’s descendants (not including daughters) there could have been more than 15,000 persons in his progeny.

It is possible that the brothers by now were having second thoughts about killing Joseph Judah came up with the acceptable solution: sell Joseph as a slave to the merchants. In this way they would not have his blood on their hands, and they would make a small profit as well!

The Midianite caravan carried aromatic spices and perfumes to Egypt for sale. They would have no objections to adding a slave boy to their merchandise. Joseph was at this time about 17 or 18 years of age, and would bring a good price in the slave markets of Egypt. The brothers took Joseph from the pit, and sold him for twenty pieces (shekels) of silver, equivalent to less than $15.00. This was the price later fixed in the Law for a boy between five and twenty years of age (Le 27:5). The going price for a slave was thirty shekels (Exodus 21:32). This would allow the Midianites to make a profit for themselves when they sold him in Egypt.

The caravan left Dothan for Egypt, with Joseph as a slave. The route took them in sight of Jacob’s tents near Hebron. But it would be many years before Joseph would again see his father.

Verses 29-36

Verses 29-36:

For some unrevealed reason, Reuben was not present when the transaction took place to sell Joseph When he returned, he went to the pit to release Joseph, but found it empty. He was filled with dismay, for as the oldest son he must account to Jacob for Joseph’s disappearance.

The brothers then resorted to a plan previously discussed, to deceive their father into believing Joseph to be dead. They killed a "kid" (he-goat), and dipped Joseph’s coat in its blood. Then they took the coat to their father and reported they had found it. Jacob identified it as the tunic he had given to Joseph, and concluded that his beloved son had been killed and devoured by some "evil" or wild predatory beast. He went into a state or prolonged mourning for his lost son. His other sons and daughters tried without success to comfort Jacob. This implies he had daughters other than Dinah, or these may have been his daughters-in-law.

Joseph was sold as a slave to a man named Potiphar. This name is an abbrevation of Poti-Phera, or Pet-Pa-Ra, "he who belongs to the sun." He was an officer of Pharaoh, a "captain of the guard," literally "captain of the slaughterers," or the chief officer in charge of the royal executioners.

Joseph’s captors are identified as Midianites, or Medanites. These were descendants of Medan, a brother of Midian, both descendants of Abraham by Keturah (Ge 25:2). It was common at that time to call the Arabian merchants Ishmaelites, Midianites, and Medanites. All three terms are used in this narrative to denote the traders who purchased Joseph The caravan took its name from the Ishmaelites, who comprised the greater portion. Joseph’s actual purchasers were the Midianites or Medanites.

Bibliographical Information
Garner, Albert & Howes, J.C. "Commentary on Genesis 37". Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ghb/genesis-37.html. 1985.
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