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Bible Commentaries

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

Genesis 37

Verse 1

And Jacob dwelt in the land wherein his father was a stranger, in the land of Canaan. Jacob dwelt in the land wherein his father was a stranger - i:e., sojourner; father used collectively. The patriarch was at this time at Mamre, in the valley of Hebron (cf. Genesis 35:27); and his dwelling there was continued in the same manner, and prompted by the same motives as that of Abraham and Isaac (Hebrews 11:13).

Verse 2

These are the generations of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was feeding the flock with his brethren; and the lad was with the sons of Bilhah, and with the sons of Zilpah, his father's wives: and Joseph brought unto his father their evil report.

Generations [ tolªdowt (H8435)] - leading occurrences in the domestic history of Jacob, as shown in the narrative about to be commenced, (see the note at Genesis 2:4; Genesis 5:1; Genesis 10:1; Genesis 25:12; Genesis 25:19, etc.)

Joseph... was feeding - literally, Joseph being seventeen years old, was a shepherd over the flock-he a lad, with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah. Oversight or superintendence is evidently implied. This post of chief shepherd in the party might be assigned him either from his being the son of a principal wife, or from his own superior qualities of character; and if invested with this office, he acted not as a gossiping tell-tale, but as "a faithful steward" in reporting the scandalous conduct of his brethren.

Their evil report, [ dibaataam (H1681) raa`aah (H7451)] - an unfavourablc report respecting them.

Verse 3

Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age: and he made him a coat of many colours.

Son of his old age. Benjamin being younger, was more the son of his old age, and consequently on that ground might have been expected to be the favourite. Literally rendered, it is 'son of old age to him'-Hebrew phrase for 'a wise son'-one who possessed observation and wisdom above his years-an old head on young shoulders.

Made him a coat of ... colours, [ kªtonet (H3801) paciym (H6446)]. (Gesenius defines it, 'a tunic, reaching to the palms of the hands and soles of the feet' - i:e., a long tunic with sleeves, worn by young men and maidens of the better class. [ Paciym (H6446) is only used in this phrase. But the word, pac (H6446), signifies a piece, as well as the palm of the hand; and hence, the phrase is usually rendered 'a coat of pieces of various colours;' Septuagint, chitoon (G5509) poikilos (G4164), a striped or variegated tunic.] It was formed in those early days by sewing together patches of coloured cloth, and considered a dress of distinction (Judges 5:30; 2 Samuel 13:18).

The passion for various colours still reigns among the Arabs and the country people of the East who are fond The passion for various colours still reigns among the Arabs and the country people of the East, who are fond of dressing their children in this gaudy attire. But since the art of interweaving various patterns was introduced, 'the coats of colours' are different now from what they seem to have been in patriarchal times, and bear a close resemblance to the varieties of tartan.

Verse 4

And when his brethren saw that their father loved him more than all his brethren, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably unto him.

Could not speak peaceably unto him - i:e., in a kind, friendly manner; they did not say, 'Peace be to thee,' the usual expression of good wishes among friends and acquaintances. It is deemed a sacred duty to give all this form of salutation; and the withholding of it is an unmistakable sign of dislike or secret hostility. The habitual refusal of Joseph's brethren, therefore, to meet him with 'the salaam' showed how ill-disposed they were toward him. It is very natural in parents to love the youngest, and feel partial to those who excel in talents or amiableness. But in a family constituted as Jacob's-many children by different mothers-he showed great and criminal indiscretion.

Verse 5

And Joseph dreamed a dream, and he told it his brethren: and they hated him yet the more.

Dreamed a dream. Dreams in ancient times were much attended to; and hence, the dream of Joseph, though he was but a mere boy, engaged the serious consideration of his family. But this dream was evidently symbolical. The meaning was easily discerned; and, from its being repeated under the different emblems of the sheaves and of the heavenly bodies (the eleven stars denoting the constellations of the zodiac, bowing down to him, the twelfth), the fulfillment was considered certain (cf, Genesis 41:32) - whence it was that "his brethren envied him, but his father observed the saying."

Verses 6-11

And he said unto them, Hear, I pray you, this dream which I have dreamed:

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 12

And his brethren went to feed their father's flock in Shechem.

His brethren went to feed their father's flock in Shechem. The vale of Shechem was, from the earliest mention of Canaan, blest with extraordinary abundance of water. Therefore, the sons of Jacob went from Hebron to this place, though it must have cost them almost 20 more hours of traveling - i:e., at the shepherd's rate-a little more than 50 miles. But the field was Jacob's property; and the herbage there is so rich and nutritious, that they thought it well worth the pains of so long a journey, to the neglect of the grazing district of Hebron (Van de Velde).

Verse 13

And Israel said unto Joseph, Do not thy brethren feed the flock in Shechem? come, and I will send thee unto them. And he said to him, Here am I.

Israel said ... Do not thy brethren ... Anxious to learn how his sons were doing, Jacob despatched Joseph to their distant encampment; and the youth, accepting the mission with alacrity, left the vale of Hebron (Genesis 35:27), sought them at Shechem, heard of them from a man in "the field" - the wide and richly-cultivated plain of Esdraelon-and found that they had left the neighbourhood of Shechem for Dothan, probably being compelled to leave the place by the detestation in which their name was held.

Verses 14-16

And he said to him, Go, I pray thee, see whether it be well with thy brethren, and well with the flocks; and bring me word again. So he sent him out of the vale of Hebron, and he came to Shechem.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 17

And the man said, They are departed hence; for I heard them say, Let us go to Dothan. And Joseph went after his brethren, and found them in Dothan.

Found them in Dothan - Hebrew, Dothaim, or 'two wells,' recently discovered in the modern 'Dotan,' situated a few hours' distance from Shechem, in the mountain passes of Manasseh.

Verses 18-22

And when they saw him afar off, even before he came near unto them, they conspired against him to slay him.

When they saw him afar off. On the level grass-field, where they were watching their cattle, they could perceive him approaching in the distance from the side of Shechem, or rather Samaria.

Behold, this dreamer cometh - literally, 'master of dreams;' a bitterly ironical sneer. Dreams being considered suggestions from above, to make false pretensions to having received one, was detested as a species of blasphemy; and in this light Joseph was regarded by his brethren, an artful pretender. They already began to form a plot for his assassination, from which he was rescued only by the address of Reuben, who suggested that he should rather be cast into one of the wells [ haborowt (H953), the cisterns or reservoirs for collecting water in the rainy season, with narrow mouth and wide below (cf. Jeremiah 37:16; Zechariah 9:11)] which are, and probably were, completely dried up in summer.

Verse 23

And it came to pass, when Joseph was come unto his brethren, that they stript Joseph out of his coat, his coat of many colours that was on him;

They stripped ... coat of ... colours. Imagine him advancing in all the unsuspecting openness of brotherly affection. How astonished and terrified must he have been at the cold reception, the ferocious aspect, the rough usage of his unnatural assailants. A vivid picture of his state of agony and despair was afterward drawn by themselves (cf. Genesis 42:21).

Verse 24

And they took him, and cast him into a pit: and the pit was empty, there was no water in it. No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 25

And they sat down to eat bread: and they lifted up their eyes and looked, and, behold, a company of Ishmeelites came from Gilead with their camels bearing spicery and balm and myrrh, going to carry it down to Egypt.

They sat down to eat bread. What a view does this exhibit of those hardened profligates! Their common share in this conspiracy is not the only dismal feature in the story. The rapidity, the almost instantaneous manner in which the proposal was followed by their joint resolution, and the cool indifference, or rather the fiendish satisfaction, with which they sat down to regale themselves, is astonishing; it is impossible that mere envy at his dreams, his gaudy dress, or the doting partiality of their common father, could have goaded them on to such a pitch of frenzied resentment, or confirmed them in such 'consummate wickedness. Their hatred to Joseph must have had a far deeper seat-must have been produced by dislike to his piety and other excellencies, which made his character and conduct a constant censure upon theirs, and on account of which they found that they could never be at ease until they had rid themselves of his hated presence. This was the true solution of the mystery, just as it was in the case of Cain (1 John 3:12).

They lifted up their eyes ... and behold ... Ishmaelites. They are called Midianites (Genesis 37:28); and [ ha-Midyaaniym (H4084)], the Medanites (Genesis 37:36), being a traveling caravan composed of a mixed association of Arabians. Medan and Midian, sons of Keturah (Genesis 25:2), became heads of tribes, whose settlement was on the east of the Dead Sea.

The Medanites lay south of 'their brethren, extending along the eastern boundary of Edom toward Sinai. Those tribes of Northern Arabia had already addicted themselves to commerce, and long did they enjoy a monopoly, the carrying trade being entirely in their hands, because the Egyptians themselves did not engage in foreign commerce. Being in the time of Jacob small tribes, they united for the purposes of trade, and thus the Midianites, the Medanites, and a party of Ishmaelites, who inhabited the same country, were all concerned in the transaction which involved the sale of Joseph. Either the name of the one people or the other might be used in describing this traveling caravan, as they were all in co-partnery (cf. Judges 8:22; Judges 8:24; Judges 8:26).

Their approach could easily be seen; because as their road, after crossing the ford from the transjordanic district, led along the south side of the mountains of Gilboa, a party seated on the plain of Dothan could trace them and their string of camels in the distance, as they proceeded through the broad and gently-sloping valley that intervenes.

Trading in the produce of Arabia and India, they were, in the regular course of traffic, on their way to Egypt; and the chief articles of commerce in which trading caravans dealt were [ nªko't (H5219)] (Genesis 43:11), a strong fragrant perfume called storax, and hence, applied generally to spicery and all kinds of aromatic substances, from India and Ceylon [Septuagint, thumiamatoon (G2368)] - sweet odours, incense [ uwtsªriy (H6875)] and opobalsamum, balsam, or balm, distilling from a shrub in Gilead, famous for its medicinal properties, and frequently mentioned in Scripture (Jeremiah 8:22; Jeremiah 46:11; Ezekiel 27:17) [ waaloT (H3910)]; and myrrh, the resinous gum of a small odoriferous tree, Cistus creticus, growing in Arabia-Felix and North Africa, celebrated as a perfume and stimulating medicine, and often given as a present, on account of its value and rarity. For these articles there must have been an enormous demand in Egypt, as they were constantly used in the process of embalmment.

Verses 26-28

And Judah said unto his brethren, What profit is it if we slay our brother, and conceal his blood?

Judah said ... What profit? The sight of these traveling merchants gave a sudden turn to the views of the conspirators; because having no wish to commit a greater degree of crime than was necessary for the accomplishment of their end, they readily approved of Judah's suggestion to dispose of their obnoxious brother as a slave. The proposal, of course, was founded on their knowledge that the Arabian merchants trafficked in slaves; and there is the clearest evidence furnished by the monuments of Egypt that the traders, who were in the habit of bringing slaves from the countries through which they passed, found a ready market in the cities of the Nile. Slavery, as Wilkinson informs us, was tolerated in Egypt, and traders brought them to the market. White and black slaves, purchased with money, were, in addition to war-captives, employed by the upper classes of the Egyptians both in domestic and field labours.

They lifted up Joseph and sold him. Acting impulsively on Judah's advice, they had their poor victim ready by the time the merchants reached them; and money being no part of their object, they sold him for "twenty pieces of silver." The money was probably in rings or pieces (shekels); and silver is always mentioned in the records of that early age before gold, on account of its rarity [Hence, the Septuagint wrongly has: eikosi chrusoon]. The whole sum, if in shekel weight, did not exceed 3 British pounds. The merchants paid twenty pieces of silver; and the price of a slave in Egypt being thirty pieces of silver (Josephus, 'Antiquities,' b. 12:, ch. 11, sec. 3: cf. Exodus 21:32), the profit of ten pieces would be made by the traders.

They brought Joseph into Egypt. There were two routes to Egypt-the one was overland by Hebron, where Jacob dwelt, and by taking which the fate of his hapless son would likely have reached the paternal ears; the other was directly westward, across the country from Dothan to the maritime coast; and by this-the safest and most expeditious way, down the Shephela, or great Philistine plain-the merchants carried Joseph to Egypt. Thus, did an overruling Providence lead this murderous conclave of brothers, as well as the slave-merchants, both following their own courses, to be parties in an act by which He was to work out, in a marvelous manner, the great purposes of His wisdom and goodness toward His ancient Church and people.

Verses 29-30

And Reuben returned unto the pit; and, behold, Joseph was not in the pit; and he rent his clothes.

Reuben returned unto the pit. He seems to have designedly taken a circuitous route, with a view of secretly rescuing the poor lad from a lingering death by starvation. By the law of the go'el, the oldest was constituted protector of his younger brother; hence, finding that Joseph was not in the pit, he rent his clothes, and uttered that wail which, in Hebrew, is so touching from its sounds: "The child is not, and I, whither shall I go." His excessive grief arose from a sense of his personal responsibility. His intentions were excellent, and his feelings no doubt painfully lacerated, when he discovered what had been done in his absence. But the thing was of God, who had designed that Joseph's deliverance should be accomplished by other means than his.

Verses 31-35

And they took Joseph's coat, and killed a kid of the goats, and dipped the coat in the blood;

They took Joseph's coat. The commission of one sin necessarily leads to another to conceal it; and the scheme of deception which the sons of Jacob planned and practiced on their aged father was a necessary consequence of the atrocious crime they had perpetrated. What a wonder that their cruel sneer, "thy son's coat," and their forced efforts to comfort him, did not awaken suspicion! But extreme grief, like every other passion, is blind; and Jacob, great as his affliction was, did allow himself to indulge his sorrow more than became one who believed in the government of a supreme and all-wise Disposer.

Verse 34. Jacob rent his clothes ... sackcloth - the common signs of Oriental mourning. A tear is made in the skirt more or less lengthwise, according to the afficted feelings of the mourner, and a coarse rough piece of black sackcloth or camel's hair cloth is wound round the waist.

Verse 35. All his sons ... rose up to comfort him. What a bitter, heartless mockery, when the very authors of the grief professed to be comforters.

He said ... I will go down into the grave, [ Shª'olaah (H7585)] - the place of the departed [Septuagint, eis (G1519) Hadou (G86)]; to Hades-not the grave, nor any opening in the earth; because Jacob believed his son's flesh had been devoured by an evil beast, and his bones scattered upon the surface of the ground-but to Sheol, the place of souls, the spirit-world, where he expected, in consciousness, to meet the undestroyed soul of Joseph.

Verse 36

And the Midianites sold him into Egypt unto Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh's, and captain of the guard.

Sold him ... unto Potiphar, [Septuagint, Petefree] - i:e. belonging to the sun.

An officer, [ cªriyc (H5631)] - properly a eunuch [Septuagint, spadoon]; often used in a general sense as an officer of court (Esther 1:10).

Pharoah's - i:e., according to some, Ph-ouro, 'the king;' but far more likely, Ph-rah, 'the sun,' an official title borne by the kings of Egypt from the earliest times (see the note at Genesis 12:15). Captain of the guard, [ sar (H8269) haTabaachiym (H2876)] - chief or prefect of the king's body-guard, or of the executioners (see parallel phrase, 2 Kings 25:8; Jeremiah 39:9, since, in the East, these offices were conjoined. [The Septuagint renders the word by archimageiros, principal cook; Rashi, chief of the slanghtermen of the royal cattle]. But the view adopted by our translators is most generally supported. To this day the kapuaghey, or captain of the white eunuchs, is also chief of the kapidgis, or body guards of the Sultan.

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Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Genesis 37". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/genesis-37.html. 1871-8.