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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 37

Kretzmann's Popular Commentary of the BibleKretzmann's Commentary

Verses 1-4

Joseph Hated by his Brothers

v. 1. And Jacob dwelt in the land wherein his father was a stranger, in the land of Canaan. He had now entered upon the inheritance of his father, he was the bearer of the patriarchal blessing; although a stranger in the land of Canaan, he knew that eventually the entire country would belong to his children.

v. 2. These are the generations of Jacob; the remainder of the book is devoted to the history of Jacob and his family. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was feeding the flock with his brethren; having reached this age, he was considered strong enough to serve, with the rest, as a shepherd-boy. And the lad was with the sons of Bilhah and with the sons of Zilpah, his father's wives, since the sons of his mother's hand-maid and those of Leah's servant stood nearer to him than the sons of Leah. And Joseph brought unto his father their evil report. He was not an idle, conceited tale-bearer, but he did his duty in informing his father when, evil reports concerning his brothers became persistent, when they had given offense to him and to others by their wickedness.

v. 3. Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age. With the exception of Benjamin, who was then still in his infancy, Joseph had been his last son, and Rachel's son at that. And he made him a coat of many colors, a fine tunic, or mantel-like garment, with long sleeves, such as was worn by rich people and members of the nobility.

v. 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. They believed that Jacob's preference for Joseph indicated that the right of the first-born was to be conferred upon him. As a result, their envy and hatred grew to the point that they were no longer able to greet him kindly nor to talk with him frankly and peaceably. Envy very often grows into hatred and results in manifold sins.

Verses 5-11

The Dreams of Joseph

v. 5. And Joseph dreamed a dream, and he told it his brethren; and they hated him yet the more. Joseph, not realizing the situation in its full gravity, told his dream with boyish eagerness and frankness, the result being, however, that he poured oil upon the flames of the hatred against him.

v. 6. And he said unto them, Hear, I pray you, this dream which I have dreamed.

v. 7. For, behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and, lo, my sheaf arose, and also stood upright; and, behold, your sheaves stood round about, and made obeisance to my sheaf. As Isaac had tilled the soil in addition to grazing his herds and flocks, Genesis 26:12, so Jacob had at least some land under cultivation, and Joseph was familiar with the work, having been called upon to assist his brothers in binding the loose grain-stalks into sheaves, or bundles. The interpretation of his dream was obvious, namely, that he would be exalted above his brothers.

v. 8. And his brethren said to him, Shalt thou indeed reign over us, or shalt thou indeed have dominion over us, lord it over us as king? And they hated him yet the more for his dreams, and for his words. They added to their hatred of him, partly on account of the dream itself, which made them feel uneasy, partly because he told them of it.

v. 9. And he dreamed yet another dream, and told it his brethren, and said, Behold, I have dreamed a dream more: And, behold, the sun and the moon and the eleven stars made obeisance to me. Here Joseph was also entirely ingenuous, being half puzzled and half delighted, since the repetition of the same idea in the dream made its fulfillment probable.

v. 10. And he told it to his father and to his brethren; and his father rebuked him, and said unto him, What is this dream that thou hast dreamed? Shall I and thy mother, either Bilhah or Leah, and thy brethren indeed come to bow down ourselves to thee to the earth? There is a note of uneasiness in Jacob's stern reproof, as if he could not quite persuade himself that the dream was merely the result of false ambition.

v. 11. And his brethren envied him; they continued their attitude of hateful aloofness; but his father observed the saying, he kept and remembered the words, recalling them, probably, when he was told of Joseph's remarkable elevation some twenty-two years later. It was nothing unusual in those days for the Lord to make known His plans by means of dreams, and He often provided reliable interpreters as well. It is foolish for people in our days to set up arbitrary explanations of dreams.

Verses 12-22

Joseph Sent to Shechem

v. 12. And his brethren went to feed their father's flock in Shechem. In taking care of the immense herds and flocks of their father, they were obliged to roam far and wide over the country, Shechem being one of their stations.

v. 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. It may be that Jacob was filled with anxiety on account of the fact that his sons had so boldly returned to the scene of the recent slaughter.

v. 14. 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. To inform himself of the well-being of his brothers and of that of the flocks, that was the errand of Joseph, and it speaks well for his obedience that he offered no objection, but declared his willingness at once. So he sent him out of the vale of Hebron, and he came to Shechem, which was about two days' journey from Hebron.

v. 15. And a certain man found him, and, behold, he was wandering in the field, having missed the right road. And them an asked him, saying, What seekest thou?

v. 16. And he said, I seek my brethren; tell me, I pray thee, where they feed their flocks. If Joseph had not lost his way, he would have gotten his information at Shechem; as it is, he is obliged to appeal to the stranger.

v. 17. And the man said, They are departed hence; for I heard them say, Let us go to Dothan, which is a town about fourteen miles north of Shechem, toward the Plain of Jezreel. And Joseph went after his brethren, and found them in Dothan, that is, at Dothan, near the town, where there was good pasture for their cattle. If Joseph left the neighborhood of Shechem on the morning of the third day, he may have reached Dothan about noon.

v. 18. And when they saw him a far off, even before he came near unto them, they conspired against him to slay him. They recognized Joseph even from a distance by the hated coat which he wore, and it was the sentiment of the majority that this would be a fine opportunity to get rid of him. It was a plan conceived in falsehood and deceit, and, to all intents and purposes, it made them murderers before God.

v. 19. And they said one to an other, Behold, this dreamer cometh, literally, This master of dreams is coming.

v. 20. Come now, therefore, and let us slay him, and cast him in to some pit, and we will say, Some evil beast hath devoured him; and we shall see what will become of his dreams. The cold-blooded manner of their planning shows the intensity of their hatred: to kill Joseph first, and then to remove all evidence of their crime by throwing his body in some cistern in the wilderness. Their words indicate, nevertheless, that they could not throw off a feeling of apprehension as to the outcome, should the dreams of Joseph be fulfilled.

v. 21. And Reuben heard it, and he delivered him out of their hands, and said, Let us not kill him.

v. 22. And Reuben said unto them, Shed no blood, but cast him in to this pit that is in the wilderness, and lay no hand upon him; that he might rid him out of their hands, to deliver him to his father again. Reuben here almost redeems himself for the crime which he committed against his father. For although he, for the sake of the success of his plan, had to express himself in such a way as to lead his brothers to infer that he was willing to let Joseph die in the cistern, it was the only way to gain their consent. He hoped to find ways and means afterwards of saving Joseph's life, and of restoring him to his father. If Reuben had not yet fully repented of his great sin and was still morally weak, he at least showed evidence of a change.

Verses 23-28

Joseph Sold to the Ishmaelites

v. 23. And it came to pass, when Joseph was come unto his brethren, that they stripped Joseph out of his coat, his coat of many colors that was on him, the fine long-sleeved tunic which his father had procured for him;

v. 24. and they took him, and cast him in to a pit; and the pit was empty, there was no water in it. So Reuben's suggestion prevailed, and Joseph was thrown into the empty cistern, although his cries for mercy rang in the ears of his brothers for many long years afterward, Genesis 41:21.

v. 25. And they sat down to eat bread; and they lifted up their eyes and looked, and, behold, a company of Ishmaelites came from Gilead with their camels bearing spicery and balm and myrrh, going to carry it down to Egypt. In the century and a half since Midian, the son of Keturah, and Ishmael had been dismissed from the house of Abraham, their descendants must have become a tribe of some number. The Midianites and the Ishmaelites were largely engaged in trading, the present caravan being loaded with gum-tragacanth of Syria, with terebinth-balm of Gilead, and with the fragrant gum of the cistus-rose found throughout Arabia. The merchants had crossed the Jordan near what was afterwards Beth-Shean and were following the caravan road through the plain of Tell-Dothan to Ramleh and then down to Egypt, where they hoped to dispose of their merchandise.

v. 26. And Judah said unto his brethren, What profit is it if we slay our brother, and conceal his blood? Judah also did not have the courage to oppose his brothers outright, although the idea of murdering his brother was abhorrent to him. His argument was that they would have no benefit out of it if they would simply put Joseph to death.

v. 27. Come, and let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him; for he is our brother and our flesh. And his brethren were content. The daring plan of Judah appealed to them, now that the first flare of their hatred had died down. Their consciences would not be burdened with a murder, and they would, in addition, have the slave-money for their profit.

v. 28. Then there passed by Midianites, merchantmen; and they drew and lifted up Joseph out of the pit, and sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver; and they brought Joseph into Egypt, passing within twenty miles of his father's home to do so. Twenty pieces, or shekels, of silver was the price of a slave-boy, as fixed in the laws of Moses, Leviticus 27:5, well over ten dollars in American money. So the sons of Jacob, as they thought, had their revenge, and Judah thought he had salved his conscience. Such is the progress of sin.

Verses 29-36

Jacob's Grief over Joseph

v. 29. And Reuben returned unto the pit. The brothers had taken advantage of his absence to carry out Judah's plan. And, behold, Joseph was not in the pit; and he rent his clothes in deep grief and sorrow.

v. 30. And he returned unto his brethren and said, the child is not; and I, whither shall I go? He felt that his father would hold him, as the oldest, responsible for the welfare of, Joseph.

v. 31. And they took Joseph's coat, and killed a kid of the goats, and dipped the coat in the blood;

v. 32. and they sent the coat of many colors, and they brought it to their father, and said, This have we found; know now whether it be thy son's coat or no. In this way the brothers answered the cry of Reuben. The fine coat of Joseph, the object of their jealousy and their wrath, they soaked in the blood of a young goat and then delivered it to their father with a heartless notice. Thus one transgression gave birth to another, and the hearts of the sons were estranged from their father.

v. 33. And he knew it and said, It is my son's coat. Love sharpened Jacob's eyesight so that he had no difficulty in recognizing the coat. An evil beast hath devoured him; Joseph is without doubt rent in pieces: torn, torn to pieces is Joseph. Thus the father was misled by the deception of his sons, reaching the conclusion which they had intended.

v. 34. And Jacob rent his clothes, and put sackcloth upon his loins, and mourned for his son many days. He continued to wear the garment of deepest mourning for a long time.

v. 35. And all his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him. A poor enough effort it must have been on the part of the guilty sons, unless they were absolutely callous by this time. But he refused to be comforted; and he said, for I will go down in to the grave, into the realm of death, unto my son mourning. Thus his father wept for him. He saw only the dark night of death and mourning before him.

v. 36. and the Midianites sold him (Joseph) in to Egypt unto Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh's and captain of the guard. As a slave he was sold to this eunuch, or officer, of the Egyptian king, who was the commander or captain of Pharaoh's body-guard, and incidentally the head-executioner. Joseph is a type of Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of the heavenly Father, sent down from heaven for the welfare of His brethren on earth. He also was sold for a few pieces of silver and subjected to every form of indignity. But in all these things, God's gracious counsel of salvation was carried out.

Bibliographical Information
Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on Genesis 37". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kpc/genesis-37.html. 1921-23.
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