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Bible Commentaries

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and Homiletical

Genesis 37

Verses 1-36


The Genesis of the People of israel in egypt from the twelve branches of israel, or the history of joseph and his brethren. joseph the patriarch of the faith-dispensation through humiliation and exaltation.—Genesis 37:1-36


Jacob’s inconsiderate fondness for Joseph. Joseph’s dreams. His brothers’ envy. Joseph sold into Egypt.

Genesis 37:1-36

1And Jacob dwelt in the land wherein his father was a stranger, in the land of Canaan. 2These 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.1 3Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age2; and he made him a coat of many colors3 [a beautiful robe, Genesis 27:15]. 4And when his brethren saw that their father loved him more than all his brethren, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably unto him. 5And Joseph dreamed a dream, and he told it to his brethren: and they hated him yet the more. 6And he said unto them, Hear, I pray you, this dream which I have dreamed: 7For, 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. 8And his brethren said unto him, Shalt thou indeed reign over us? or shalt thou indeed have dominion over us? and they hated him yet the more for his dreams, and for his words. 9And he dreamed yet another dream, and told it to his brethren, and said, Behold, I have dreamed a dream more; and, behold, the sun and the moon and the eleven stars made obeisance unto me. 10And 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 and thy brethren indeed come to bow down ourselves to thee to the earth? 11And his brethren envied him; but his father observed [kept, preserved] the saying. 12And his brethren went to feed their father’s flock in Shechem. 13And Israel said unto Joseph, Do not thy brethren feed the flock in Shechem? come, and I will send thee unto them. 14And he said to him, Here am I. 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. 15And a certain man found him, and, behold, he was wandering in the field: and the man asked him, saying, What seekest thou? 16And he said, I seek my brethren: tell me, I pray thee, where they feed their flocks. 17And the man said, They are departed hence; for I heard them say, Let us go to Dothan [the two wells]. And Joseph went after his brethren, and found them in Dothan. 18And when they saw him afar off, even before he came near unto them, they conspired against him to slay him. 19And they said one 20to another, Behold, this dreamer [man of dreams] cometh. Come now, therefore, and let us slay him, and cast him into some pit; and we will say, Some evil beast hath devoured him: and we will see what will become of his dreams. 21And Reuben heard it, and he delivered him [sought to deliver] out of their hands; and he said, Let us not kill him. 22And Reuben said unto them, Shed no blood, but cast him into 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. 23And 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. 24And they took him, and cast him into a pit: and the pit was empty, there was no water in it. 25And they sat down to eat bread: and they lifted up their eyes and looked, and, behold, a company of Ishmaelites [a caravan] came from Gilead, with their camels bearing spices [tragakanth-gum], and balm, and myrrh, going to carry it down to Egypt. 26And Judah said unto his brethren, What profit is it if we slay our brother, and conceal his blood? 27Come, 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. 28Then 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 unto Egypt. 29And Reuben returned unto the pit; and, behold, Joseph was not in the pit: and he rent his clothes. 30And he returned unto his brethren, and said, The child is not; and I, whither shall I go? 31And they took Joseph’s coat, and killed a kid of the goats, and dipped the coat in the blood. 32And 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. 33And he knew it, and said, It is my son’s coat; an evil beast hath devoured him; Joseph is without doubt rent in pieces. 34And Jacob rent his clothes, and put sackcloth upon his loins, and mourned for his son many days. 35And all his sons, and all his daughters, rose up to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted; and he said, For I will go down into the grave [sheol]4 unto my son mourning. Thus his father wept for him. 36And the Midianites sold him into Egypt, unto Potiphar [Septuagint: Πετεφρῆς, belonging to the sun], an officer of Pharaoh’s [king; Lepsius: sun], and captain of the guard.


1. It is to be noted here, in the first place, that the history of Joseph is amplified beyond that of any of the patriarchs hitherto. This is explained by the contact which Joseph’s transportation gives rise to between the Hebrew spirit and the Egyptian culture and literature. A trace of this may be found in the history of Abraham; for after Abraham had been in Egypt, his history becomes more full. With the memorabilia of Joseph connects itself the account of Moses, who was educated in all the different branches of Egyptian learning, whilst this again points to Samuel and the schools of the prophets.
2. Knobel regards Joseph’s history as having grown out of the original Elohistic text connected with a later revision (p. 288). He supposes, however, in this case, two halves, which, taken separately, have no significance. That Joseph was sold into Egypt, according to the supposed original text, can only be explained from the fact mentioned in the supposed additions, that he had incurred the hatred of his brethren by reason of his aspiring dreams. Reuben’s proposition to cast Joseph into the pit, and which aimed at his preservation, was not added until afterwards, it is said. Even Joseph’s later declaration: I was stolen from the country of the Hebrews, is regarded as making a difference. Delitzsch, too, adopts a combination of different elements, without, however, recognizing the contradictions raised by Knobel (p. 517). He presents, also, as a problem difficult of solution, the usage of the divine names in this last period of Genesis: In Genesis 37:0 no name of God occurs, but in Genesis 38:0, it is Jehovah that slays Judah’s sons, as also, in Genesis 39:0, it is Jehovah that blesses Joseph in Potiphar’s house, and in person; as recognized by Potiphar himself. Only in Genesis 37:9 we find Elohim,—the name Jehovah not being here admissible. From Genesis 40:0 onward, the name Jehovah disappears. It occurs but once between Genesis 40, 50, as in Genesis 18:0, when Jacob uses it: “I have waited for thy salvation, Jehovah.” For different interpretations of this by Keil, Drechsler, Hengstenberg, Baumgarten, and Delitzsch, see Delitzsch, p. 515. The three last agree in this, that the author of Genesis, in the oft-repeated Elohim, wished here to mark more emphatically, by way of contrast, the later appearance of the Jehovah-period, Exodus 3:6. This would, indeed, be a very artificial way of writing books. The riddle must find its solution in actual relations. The simple explanation is, that in the history of a Joseph, which stands entirely upon an Elohistic foundation, this name Elohim predominantly occurs. Joseph is the Solomon of the patriarchal times.

3. The generations of Jacob connect themselves with those of Esau. Delitzsch justly remarks, p. 511, that the representation which follows (Genesis 37:0 to Genesis 50:0), was intended to be, not a mere history of Joseph, but a history of Jacob in his sons. Otherwise Judah’s history, Genesis 38:0, would appear as an interpolation. The twelve sons of Jacob constitute Israel’s new seed. The latter fact, of course, has the stronger emphasis. The generations of Jacob are the history and successions of his posterity—that is, his living on in his posterity, just as Adam’s tholedoth, Genesis 5:1, represent the history of Adam, not personally, but historically, in his descendants.

4. Joseph’s history is considered in a triple relation: as the history of the genesis of the Israelitish people in Egypt; as an example of a special providence, such as often brings good out of evil, as ex-emplified in the book of Job; and as a type of the fundamental law of God in guiding the elect from suffering to joy, from humiliation to exaltation—a law already indicated in the life of Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but which, henceforth, develops itself more and more (especially in the history of David), to terminate, at last, in the life of Jesus, as presenting the very sublimity of the antithesis. Hence the appearance, in our history, of individual types representing the New-Testament history of Jesus, such as the jealousy and hatred of Joseph’s brethren, the fact of his being sold, the fulfilment of Joseph’s prophetic dreams in the very efforts intended to prevent his exaltation, the turning of his brothers’ wicked plot to the salvation of many, even of themselves, and of the house of Jacob, the spiritual sentence pronounced on the treachery of the brethren, the victory of pardoning love, Judah’s suretyship for Benjamin, his emulating Joseph in a spirit of redeeming resignation, Jacob’s joyful reviving on hearing of the life and glory of his favorite son, whom he had believed to be dead.

Concerning Israel’s genesis in Egypt, Delitzsch remarks: “According to a law of divine providences, to be found not only in the Old Testament, but also in the New (?), not the land of the promise, but a foreign country, is the place where the Church is born, and comes to maturity. This foreign country, to the Old-Testament Church, is the land of Egypt. To go before his people, to prepare a place for them, is Joseph’s high vocation. Sold into Egypt, he opens the way thither to the house of Jacob, and the same country where he matures to manhood, where he suffers in prison, and attains to glory, becomes, to his family, the land where it comes to the maturity of a nation,—the land of its servitude, and of its redemption. Thus far Joseph’s history is the overture of Jacob’s history—a type of the way of the Church; not of Jehovah only, but of Christ in his progress from humiliation to exaltation, from subjection to freedom, from sufferings to glory.” See Matthew 2:15; Hosea 11:1. Israel’s riches of election and endowment are to be developed by contact with different heathen nations, and especially with Egypt. Just as Christianity, the completed revelation of the new covenant, developed itself formally for the world, by its reciprocal intercourse with a Græco-Romanic culture, thus was it also with the faith of the old covenant in its reciprocal intercourse with the old Egyptian world-culture, as shown especially in the history of Joseph, Moses, and Solomon who became the son-in-law of one of the Pharaohs. More prominently does this appear, again, in the history of Alexandrian Judaism; in which, however, the interchange of influence with Egypt becomes, at the same time, one with that of the whole Orient, and of Greece.

The key of Joseph’s history, as a history of providence, is clearly found in the declaration made by him Genesis 45:5-8, and Genesis 50:20. The full explanation, however, of its significance, is found in the history of Christ as furnishing its perfect fulfilment. Permission of evil, counteraction and modification of evil, frustration of its tendency, its conversion into good, victory over evil, destruction of evil, and reconciliation of the evil themselves,—these are the forces of a movement here represented in its most concrete and most powerful relations. The evil is conspiracy, treachery, and a murderous plot against their innocent brother. The conversion of it is of the noblest kind. The plot to destroy Joseph is the occasion of his greatest glorification. But as God’s sentence against the trembling conscious sinner is changed into grace, so also the triumph of pardoning love overcoming hatred becomes conspicuous as a glorious omen in Joseph’s life.

“Inasmuch,” says Delitzsch, “as Israel’s history is a typical history of Christ, and Christ’s history the typical history of the Church, so is Joseph a type of Christ himself. What he suffered from his brethren, and which God’s decree turned to his own and his nation’s salvation, is a type of Christ’s sufferings, caused by his people, but which God’s decree turned to the salvation of the world, including, finally, the salvation of Israel itself.” Says Pascal (Pensées, ii. 9, 2): “Jesus Christ is typified in Joseph, the beloved of his father, sent by his father to his brethren, the innocent one sold by his brethren for twenty pieces of silver, and then becoming their Lord, their Saviour, the saviour of those who were aliens to Israel, the saviour of the world,—all which would not have been if they had not cherished the design of destroying him—if they had not sold and rejected him. Joseph, the innocent one, in prison with two malefactors—Jesus on the cross between two thieves; Joseph predicts favorably to the one, but death to the other; Jesus saves the one, whilst he leaves the other in condemnation. Thus has the Church ever regarded Joseph’s history.” Already is this intimated in the Gospels. What Pascal here says, and as is also held by the fathers, e.g., Prosper Aquitanus, de Promissionibus et Praedictionibus Dei, is but a brief statement of the pious thoughts of all believers, in the contemplation of the history. It is this which imparts to the wonderful typical light here presented its irresistible charm.

When, however, Joseph is made the exclusive centre of our history, and the patriarchal type of Christ (Kurtz, “History of the Old Testament,” i. p. 343), Keil presents, in opposition, some most important considerations. It is, indeed, no ground of difference (as presented by him), that Joseph became formally naturalized in Egypt; for Christ, too, was delivered to the heathen, and died out of the camp. Nor does it make any important difference that Joseph received no special revelations of God at the court of Pharaoh, as Daniel did at the court of Nebuchadnezzar; the gift of interpreting dreams he also, like Daniel, referred back to God. Of greater importance is the remark that Joseph is nowhere, in the Scriptures themselves, presented as a type of Christ; yet we must distinguish between verbal references and real relations, such as might be indicated in Zechariah 11:12, and in Christ’s declaration that one of his disciples should betray him. There is, however, a verbal reference in Stephen’s speech, Acts 7:9. There is no mistaking the fact that the Messianic traces in our narrative are shared both by Joseph and Judah. Judah appears great and noble throughout the history of Joseph; the instance, however, in which he is willing to sacrifice himself to an unlimited servitude for Benjamin, makes him of equal dignity with Joseph. So in Abraham’s sacrifice, the Messianic typical is distributed between him and Isaac. Joseph’s glory is preëminently of a prophetic kind; the weight of a priestly voluntary self-sacrifice inclines more to the side of Judah. Benjamin, too, has his Messianic ray; for it is especially on his account that the brethren may appear before Joseph in a reconciling light. On Hiller’s “Typological Contemplation of Joseph,” see Keil, p. 242. Meinertzhagen, in his “Lectures on the Christology of the Old Testament” (p. 204), treats of the typical significance of Joseph with great fulness. It is also to be noted that ever afterwards Benjamin appears theocratically and geographically connected with Judah.

5. The disposition of Joseph’s history, and the settlement of the Israelites in Egypt, as well as its relation to the Hyksos of whom Josephus speaks (contra Apion, i. 14), in an extract from Manetho’s history, presents a question of great historical interest (see Delitzsch, p. 518). The extract concerning the Hyksos has a mythical look. Still darker are other things which Josephus gives us from Manetho and Chæremon (contra Ap., i. 26, 32). Different views: 1) The Hyksos and the Israelites are identical; so Manetho, Josephus, Hugo Grotius, Hofmann, Knobel (p. 301), and, in a modified form, Seyffarth, Uhlemann. 2) The Hyksos are distinct from the Israelites; they were another Shemitic tribe—Arabians, or Phœnicians; so Cunaeus, Scaliger, etc. This view, says Delitzsch, is now the prevailing one. So also Ewald, Lepsius, Saalschütz, jut with different combinations. On these see Delitzsch, p. 521. 3) The Hyksos were Scythians; so Champollion, Rossellini. The first view is opposed by the fact that the Israelites founded no dynasties in Egypt, as did the Hyksos; nor did they exist there under shepherd-kings, as the name Hyksos has been interpreted. Against the second view Delitzsch insists that the people of Egypt, into whose servitude Israel fell, appear as a people foreign to them, and by no means as one connected with them. The Shemitic idea, however, is so extended, that we cannot always suppose a theocratic element along with it. The most we can say is, that the Hyksos, who, no doubt, were a roving band of conquerors, came from Syria, or the countries lying north and east beyond Palestine. In the Egyptian tradition, their memory seems to have been so mingled with that of the Israelites, that it would seem almost impossible to separate the historical element from such a mixture. Since, however, the Israelitish history seems more obscured by that of the Hyksos than contradicted, it may be regarded as more probable that the latter came latest. The pressure of the Israelites upon the Canaanites, from the east, may have driven them in part to the south; and the weakening of Egypt by the destruction of Pharaoh and his army, forty years before, might have favored a conquest. The chronological adjustment, however, must be left to itself. For a fuller treatment of this subject, see E. Böhmer, “The First Book of the Thora” (Halle, 1862); appendix, p. 205, etc. According to Lepsius, the appearance of the Hyksos in Egypt preceded the history of Joseph. At all events, this dim tradition bears testimony to the Israelitish history in many particulars (e.g., that they founded Jerusalem in Judea). On the full confirmation of Joseph’s history by Greek historians and by Egyptian monuments, compare Delitzsch, p. 524, etc.; Hengstenberg, “The Pentateuch and Egypt,” Berlin, 1841.

6. The history of Israel’s settlement in Egypt extends through the sections that follow: 1) The corruption in Jacob’s house, the dispersion of his sons, the loss of Joseph (Genesis 38-39). 2) Joseph’s elevation, and the reconciliation and gathering of his brethren (Genesis 40-50). 3) Israel’s transplantation to Egypt (Genesis 46:1 to Genesis 47:26). 4) The keeping of the divine promise, and the longing of Israel to return home to Canaan (Genesis 47:27–ch. 50).


Contents: The conspiracy of Jacob’s sons against their brother Joseph, considered in its awful darkness, or the deep commotion and apparent destruction of Jacob’s house: 1. The occasion (Genesis 37:1-11); 2. the opportunity, and the plot of murder (Genesis 37:12-20); 3. Reuben’s attempt to rescue; 4. Judah’s effort to save, unknowingly crossing that of Reuben (Genesis 37:25-27); 5. the crime, the beginning of mourning, the hiding of guilt (Genesis 37:28-32); 6. Jacob’s deep grief, and Joseph apparently lost (Genesis 37:33-36).

1. The occasion (Genesis 37:1-11).—In the land of Canaan.—It seems to have been made already his permanent home, but soon to assume a different appearance.—The generations (see above).—Joseph being seventeen years old.—A statement very important in respect both to the present occurrence and the future history. In Genesis 41:46, he is mentioned as thirty years old. His sufferings, therefore, lasted about thirteen years. At this age of seventeen he became a shepherd with his brethren. Jacob did not send his favorite son too early to the herds; yet, though the favorite, he was to begin to serve below the rest, as a shepherd-boy. At this age, however, Joseph had great naïveness and simplicity. He therefore imprudently tells his dreams, like an innocent child. On the other hand, however, he was very sedate; he was not enticed, therefore, by the evil example of some of his brethren, but considered it his duty to inform his father.—And the lad was with the sons of Bilhah.—For the sons of Bilhah Rachel’s servant stood nearer to him, while those of Leah were most opposed. He brought to his father את דבתם רעה, translated by Keil, evil reports concerning them. A direct statement of their offences would doubtless have been differently expressed. They were an offence to those living in the vicinity. This determined him to inform his father, but it does not exclude a conviction of his own. It is inadmissible to refer this to definite sins (as, e.g., some have thought of unnatural sins). That the sons of the concubines surpassed the others in rude conduct, is easily understood. Joseph’s moral earnestness is, doubtless, the first stumbling-block to his brethren, whilst it strengthens his father in his good opinion. The beautiful robe was the second offence. It is called כְּתֹנֶת פַּסִּים, “an outer garment of ends,” which extends, like a gown, to the hands and the ancles. The Septuagint, which Luther’s translation follows, renders it “a coat of many colors.” Comp. 2 Samuel 13:18. The common tunic extended only to the knees, and was without arms. Already this preference, which seemed to indicate that Jacob intended to give him the right of the first-born, aroused the hatred of his brethren. One who hates cannot greet heartily the one who is hated, nor talk with him frankly and peaceably. In addition to this, Joseph, by his dreams and presages (though not yet a prudent interpreter), was pouring oil upon the flames. At all events, the הנה (lo), as repeated in his narration, shows that he had a presentiment of something great. Both dreams are expressive of his future elevation. In Egypt he becomes the fortunate sheaf-binder whose sheaf “stood up” during the famine. The second dream confirms the first, whilst presenting the further thought: even the sun and moon—that is, according to Jacob’s interpretation, even his father and his mother—were to bow before him. Rachel died some time before this. On this account the word mother has been referred to Bilhah, or to Benjamin as representing Rachel, or else to Leah. The brethren now hated him the more, not merely as recognizing in his dreams the suggestions of ambition, but with a mingled feeling, in which there was not wanting a presentiment of his possible exaltation—as their declaration, Genesis 37:20, betrays. In Jacob’s rebuke we perceive also mingled feelings. There is dissent from Joseph’s apparently pretentious prospects, a fatherly regard toward the mortified brethren, yet, withal, a deeper presentiment, that caused him to keep these words of Joseph in his heart, as Mary did those of the shepherds. As the naïvete of the shepherd-boy was evidence of the truthfulness of these dreams, so the result testifies to the higher origin of a divine communication, conditioned, indeed, by the hopefully presageful life of Joseph. These dreams were probably intended to sustain Joseph during his thirteen years of wretchedness, and, at the same time, to prepare him to be an interpreter. The Zodiac, as here brought in by Knobel, has no significance, nor the custom of placing a number of sheaves together.

2. The opportunity and the plot of murder (Genesis 37:12-20).—In Shechem.—There is no ground for supposing another Shechem, as some have done, on account of what had formerly occurred there. It is more likely that Jacob’s sons courageously returned to the occupation of the parcel of land formerly acquired by them. This very circumstance, however, may have so excited the anxiety of the cautious parent that he sent Joseph after them. That Joseph could have lost his way at Shechem is easily explained, since he was so young when his father lived there.—In Dothan—The Septuagint has Δωθαεΐμ, Jdt 4:6; Jdt 7:3; Jdt 8:3; Δωθαΐμ. 2 Kings 6:13, Dothan. It was a place above Samaria, towards the plain of Jezreel, according to Josephus and Hieronymus. “Thus it was found by Robinson and Smith in their journey of 1852, and also by Van de Velde, in the southeast part of the plain of Jabud, west of Genin. It is a beautiful green dell, always called Dothan, at whose south foot a fountain rises.” Delitzsch. Through the plain of Tell-Dothan a highway passes from the northwest to Ramleh and Egypt.—They conspired against him.—That Reuben and Judah were not concerned in this, is plain from what follows.—This dreamer cometh.—Spoken contemptuously—master of dreams, dream-man. The word הַלָּזֶה does not express contempt of itself, as is seen from Genesis 24:65, the only other place in which it occurs. It denotes something unexpected and remarkable.—Into some pit.—Cisterns (see Winer: wells).—And we shall see.—They thought by their fratricide surely to frustrate his exaltation—a proof that his dreams alarmed them; but by this very deed, as controlled by God’s providence, they bring it about.

3. Reuben’s artful attempt at saving (Genesis 37:21-24). The text states directly that Reuben made his proposition in order to save Joseph. Knobel, by a frivolous criticism, would foist a contradiction upon the text, namely, that Reuben made the proposition in order to let him perish in the pit; since a bloodless destruction of life seems, to have been regarded as less criminal than a direct killing. But, then, the Reviser must have imparted to Reuben’s proposition a different interpretation, by means of an addition. Reuben, it is true, had to express himself in such a way that the brothers might infer his intention to let him perish in the pit; but this was the only way to gain their consent.—They stripped Joseph out of his coat.—The object of their jealousy and their wrath.—And the pit was empty.—So that he did not perish. His cries for mercy they remembered many years afterwards (Genesis 41:21).

4. Judah’s bold attempt to save him (Genesis 37:25-27).—And they sat down.—Through this apparent insensibility their inward agony is betrayed; it appears in their agitated looking out, so that they espy the Ishmaelites already at a great distance.—And behold, a company of Ishmaelites.—A caravan, אֹרְחָה (Job 6:19). “This caravan (as Robinson’s description shows) had crossed the Jordan at Beisan, and followed the highway that led from Beisan and Zerin to Ramleh and Egypt, entering the plain of Dothan west of Genin.” Delitzsch. In Genesis 37:25; Genesis 37:27-28, the merchants are called Ishmaelites, whilst in the first part of Genesis 37:28 they are styled Midianites, and in Genesis 37:36 Medanites. Knobel, of course, regards them as different traditions (p. 293). Genesis 37:28, however, would seem to tell us that the Ishmaelites were the proprietors of the caravan, which was made up, for the most part, of Midianitish people. In a similar manner, probably, as Esau made a number of the Horites subject to him, so had the Ishmaelites also brought under them a number of the Midianites. One hundred and fifty years, the time that had elapsed since Ishmael’s departure from Abraham, would give a sufficient increase for this (see Keil, p. 244). As merchants, they were transporting costly products of their country to Egypt. Gum-tragacanth is found in Syria; the balm of Gilead was especially renowned, and was sold to Phœnicia and Egypt; ladanum (myrrh), or the fragrant rose of the cistus, is found in Arabia and Syria, as well as in Palestine (see Schubert, iii. p. 114 and 174). Concerning the cisterns, or the artificially prepared reservoirs of rain-water, see the Dictionaries and geographical works. They might be full of water, or have mire at the bottom, or be entirely dry. They were frequently used as prisons (see Jeremiah 38:6; Jeremiah 40:15). Schröder: “On his way to Damascus, Robinson found Khân Jubb Jûsuf (a kind of inn), the khan of Joseph’s pit, so called after a well connected with it, and which for a long time, both among Christians and Mohammedans, was regarded as the cistern into which Joseph was thrown.”—And Judah said.—“Then Judah began to use the language of a hypocritical self-interest,” says Delitzsch. This, however, seems to be not at all justified by Judah’s after-history. It must be presupposed that Judah was unacquainted with Reuben’s intention. The brethren were so much excited that Judah alone could not have hoped to rescue Joseph from their hand. The ferocity, especially, of Simeon and Levi, is known to us from former history. Judah, therefore, could think no otherwise than that Joseph must die from hunger in the pit. As in opposition to this, therefore, and not as a counteraction of Reuben’s attempt at deliverance, is his proposal to be judged. He lived still, though a slave. There was a possibility of his becoming free. He might make his escape by the caravan routes that passed south through his home. Reuben, in his tenderness, had made a subtle attempt to save him. In the bolder policy of Judah we see that subtle attempt crossed by one more daring. No doubt both had some ill-feeling towards Joseph, and were, therefore, not capable of a mutual and open understanding. That both, however, preserved a better conscience than the rest, is evident from the later history. The unity of our story is not disturbed by Knobel’s remark, “that a further tradition is given, Euseb. Prœp. Evang., ix. 23, to the effect that, in order to escape the snares of his brethren, Joseph besought Arabians, who were near, to take him along with them to Egypt; which they did; so that, in this way, are the patriarchs still more exculpated.” What Joseph says of himself afterwards, that he was stolen out of the land of the Hebrews (Genesis 40:15), does not contradict our narration. Was he to tell to the Egyptians the crime of his brethren?

5.Genesis 37:28-32. The crime, the beginning of mourning, and the concealment of the guilt.—Twenty pieces of silver.—Comp. Genesis 20:16. Twenty shekels of silver was the compensation that Moses appointed for a boy from five to twenty years old (Leviticus 27:5), whilst the average price of a slave was thirty shekels (Exodus 21:32).—And Reuben returned unto the pit.—His absence may easily be accounted for: it was impossible for him to eat with his brethren in his then state of mind; and he probably resorted to solitude to think out a plan of deliverance—And he rent his clothes.—The later custom (Matthew 26:65) originally sprung from vivid emotions of sorrow,—the rending as an expression of inward distraction. Afterwards came this rending of garments upon the others (Genesis 44:13).—And I, whither shall I go?—Not only as the first-born was he especially responsible for the younger brother, but his tender feelings for him, and for the unhappy father, made him the bearer of the agony of the guilty confederacy; and this to such a degree that he knew not what to do.—And they took Joseph’s coat.—One transgression gives birth to another. With the consciousness that tried to conceal their guilt, there mingles the old grudge concerning the coat of many colors, which here turns itself even against the father. Doubtless, in some degree, they thought themselves justified in the thought that the father had given them cause of irritation by providing such a coat for Joseph. Reuben and Judah are, moreover, burdened by the ban of silence.

6. Jacob’s deep grief, and Joseph’s apparent loss (Genesis 37:33-36).—It is my son’s coat.—Their deception succeeded. In his agony he does not discover the fraud; the sight of the blood-dyed garment led him to conclude: Surely an evil beast hath torn Joseph, and devoured him.—Sackcloth.—The sign of the deepest mourning (see Winer: Trauer-sack).—And mourned for his son.—Retaining also his garment of mourning.—And all his sons.—The criminals as comforters!—And all his daughters.—From this there arises the probability that Jacob had other daughters than Dinah, though the daughters-in-law may be so called.—For I will go down.—The כִּי is elliptical, implying, nothing can comfort me, for, etc.—Mourning unto my son.—There is, doubtless, something more here than grief merely for the loss; there is also self-reproach for having exposed the child to such danger.—Into the grave (sheol).—In this mournful mood of Jacob does this word sheol first occur. It was not the world beyond the grave considered as the gathering to the fathers, but the dark night of death and mourning. There are various derivations of this word. One that easily suggests itself is that which marks it from שָׁאַל, to demand—that place which inexorably demands all men back (Proverbs 30:15; Isaiah 5:14; Hebrews 2:5). [See Excursus below, especially p. 586 sq.—T. L.] Genesis 37:36. The word סָרִים, according to its original significance, denotes an eunuch; its later and more general interpretation is courtier.—Captain of the guard.—Literally a slayer, that is, an executioner (see 2 Kings 25:8; Jeremiah 39:9). For particulars, see Delitzsch, p. 531. On the chronology as connected with the remark that Joseph was sold when he was seventeen years old, see also Delitzsch, p. 532. Joseph’s history here suffers an interruption by the insertion of an incident in the life of Judah. Ch. 38 Delitzsch ascribes this to literary art on the part of the author, but of that we may doubt. It is, of itself, just the time that we should expect to learn something more about Judah.

[Note on Genesis 37:35. The Primitive Conception of Sheol.—This is the first place in which the word occurs, and it is very important to trace, as far as we can, the earliest conception, or rather emotion, out of which it arose. “I will go down to my son mourning to Sheol,”—towards Sheol, or, on the way to Sheol,—the reference being to the decline of life terminating in that unknown state, place, or condition of being, so called. One thing is clear: it was not a state of not-being, if we may use so paradoxical an expression. Jacob was going to his son; he was still his son; there is yet a tie between him and his father; he is still spoken of as a personality; he is still regarded as having a being somehow, and somewhere. Compare 2 Samuel 12:23, אֲנִי הֹלֵךְ אֵלָיו, “I am going to him, but he shall not return to me.” The him and the me in this case, like the I and the my son in Genesis, are alike personal. In the earliest language, where all is hearty, such use of the pronoun could have been no unmeaning figure. The being of the one who has disappeared is no less real than that of the one who remains still seen, still found,5 to use the Shemitic term for existence, or out-being, as a known and visible state (see note, p. 273). The LXX have rendered it here εἰς ̔́Αδου, into Hades; the Vulgate, ad filium meum in infernum. It was not to his son in his grave, for Joseph had no grave. His body was supposed to be lying somewhere in the desert, or torn in pieces, or carried off, by the wild beasts (see Genesis 37:33). To resolve it all into figurative expressions for the grave would be simply carrying our meaningless modern rhetoric into ancient forms of speech employed, in their first use, not for the reflex painting, but for the very utterance of emotional conceptions. However indefinite they may be, they are too mournfully real to admit of any such explanations. Looking at it steadily from this primitive standpoint, we are compelled to say, that an undoubting conviction of personal extinction at death, leaving nothing but a dismembered, decomposing body, now belonging to no one, would never have given rise to such language. The mere conception of the grave, as a place of burial, is too narrow for it. It, alone, would have destroyed the idea in its germ, rather than have given origin and expansion to it. The fact, too, that they had a well-known word for the grave, as a confined place of deposit for the body (אֲחֻזַּת קֶבֶר, a possession, or property, of a grave, see Genesis 23:9), shows that this other name, and this other conception, were not dependent upon it, nor derived from it.

The older lexicographers and commentators generally derived the word שְׁאוֹל (Sheol) from שָׁאַל (Sha-al), to ask, inquire, etc. This is a very easy derivation, so far as form is concerned; and why is it not correct? In any way the sense deduced will seem near, or far-fetched, according to our preconceptions in respect to that earliest view of extinct or continued being. Gesenius rejects it, maintaining that שְׁאוֹל is for שְׁעוֹל, and means cavity; hence a subterranean region, etc. He refers to שֹׁעַל, hollow of the hand, or fist, Isaiah 40:12; 1 Kings 20:10; Ezekiel 13:19; and שׁוּעָל, the name for fox or jackal, who digs holes in the earth,—this being all that can be found of any other use of the supposed root from which comes this most ancient word, so full of some most solemn significance. There is a reference, also, to the German hölle, or the general term of the northern nations (Gothic, Scandinavian, Saxon), denoting hole, or cavity; though this is the very question, whether the northern conception is not a secondary one, connected with that later thought of penal confinement which was never separable from the Saxon hell,—a sense-limitation, in fact, of the more indefinite and more spiritual notion primarily presented by the Greek Hades, and which furnishes the true parallel to the early Hebrew Sheol. Fürst has the same view as Gesenius. To make שְׁאוֹל and שְׁעוֹל equivalents, etymologically, there is supposed to be an interchange of א and ע, a thing quite common in the later Syriac, but rare in the Hebrew, especially the earlier writings, and which would be cited as a mark recentioris Hebraismi, if the rationalistic argument, at any time, required it. The ע has ever kept its place most tenaciously in the Arabic, as shown by Robinson in the numerous proper names of places in which it remains unchanged to this day. So it was, doubtless, in the most early Shemitic, though in the Syriac it became afterwards much weakened through the antipathetic Greek and Roman influence upon that language, and so, frequently passed into the more easily pronounced א. It is improbable that this should have taken place in the most ancient stage of the language, or at the time of the first occurrence of this word in the biblical writings. Gesenius would give to שָׁאִל, too, the supposititious primary sense of digging, to make it the ground of the secondary idea of search or inquiry; but this is not the primary or predominant conception of שאל; it is always that of interrogation, like the Greek ἐρωτάω, or of demand, like αἰτέω, ever implying speech, instead of the positive act of search, such as is denoted by the Hebrew חקר, to explore. Subsequent lexicographers and commentators have generally followed Gesenius, who seems to pride himself upon this discovery (see Robinson: “Lex. N. Test.” on the word Hades). Of the older mode of derivation he says: “Prior de etymo conjectura vix memoratu digna est.” By some it would be regarded as betraying a deficiency in Hebrew learning to think of supporting an etymology so contemptuously rejected. And yet it has claims that should not be lightly given up, especially as they are so intimately connected with the important inquiry in respect to the first conception of those who first used the word. “Was this, primarily, a thought of locality, however wide or narrow it may have been, or did the space-notion, which undoubtedly prevailed afterwards, come from an earlier thought, or state of soul rather, more closely allied to feeling than to any positive idea? This conception of locality in the earth came in very early; it grew naturally from something before it; but was it first of all? Lowth, Herder, etc., are, doubtless, correct in the representations they give of the Hebrew Sheol, as an imagined subterranean residence of the dead, and this is confirmed by later expressions we find in the Psalms and elsewhere, such as “going down to the pit” (compare יוֹרְדֵי בוֹר and similar language, Psalms 28:1; Psalms 30:4; Psalms 88:5; Isaiah 14:19; Isaiah 38:10, etc.); yet still there is the best of reasons for believing that what may be called the emotional or ejaculatory conception was earlier than this, and that the local was the form it took when it passed from an emotion to a speculative thought. From what source, then, in this earlier stage, could the name more naturally have come than from the primitive significance of that word שאל, which, in the Arabic ساُل, and everywhere in the Shemitic family, has this one old sense of appealing interrogation,—first, simple inquiry, secondly, the idea of demand? The error of the older etymologists, then, consisted, not in making it from שאל, but in connecting it with this secondary idea, and so referring it to Sheol itself as demanding, instead of the mourning, sighing survivors asking after the dead. They supposed it was called Sheol from its rapacity, or unsatiableness, ever claiming its victims,—a thought, indeed, common in the early language of mourning, but having too much of tropical artifice to be the very earliest. It belongs to that later stage in which language is employed, retroactively, to awaken or intensify emotion, instead of being its gushing, irrepressible utterance. In support of this view, the text constantly cited, as the standard one, was Proverbs 30:16, &שְׁאוֹל לֹא שָׂבְעָה לֹא אָמְרָה הוֹן, Sheol that is never satisfied, that never says, enough. See the old commentary of Martin Geier on the book of Proverbs. Corresponding to this is the manner in which Homer speaks of Hades, and its vast population:

κλυτὰ ἔθνεα νεκρῶν.

So the dramatic poets represent it as rapacious, carrying off its victims like a ferocious animal (see the “Medea” of Euripides, 1108), inexorable, νηλεής, pitiless, ever demanding, but hearing no prayer in return. Hence it had settled into the classical phrase rapax Orcus (see Catullus, ii. 28, 29). But this, whatever form might be given to it, was not the first thought that would arise in the mind respecting the state of the departed. Instead of such an objective attribute of Hades, or Sheol, as a place demanding to be filled, it was rather the subjective feeling of inquiring wonder at the phenomenon of death, at the thought of the one who had disappeared, and of that inexplicable state into which even the imagination failed to follow him. Shadowy as all such language is, it is only the stronger evidence of that feeling of continued being which holds on so firmly through it all, as though in spite of the positive appearances of sense testifying to the departure, or the negative testimony arising from the failure of the eye to pierce the darkness (whence the Greek Hades, the unseen), or of the ear to gather any report from the silence into which the dead had gone. See remarks in the note before referred to, p. 273, on the idea of death as a state, a state of being, the antithesis, not of being, but of the active life “beneath the sun.” Now the idea of extinction, of absolute not-being, of a total loss of individual personality, would have excluded all questioning; it would never have made such words as Hades, or Sheol, according to either conception, whether of inquiry or of locality, whether as denoting a state or a place, whether as demanding or as interrogated, whether as addressed to the unseen, or to the voiceless and unheard. The man was gone, but where? According to a most ancient and touching custom, they thrice most solemnly invoked his name, but no answer came back. Their belief in his continued being was shown by the voice that went after him, though no responding voice was returned to the living ear. שְׁאוֹל (the infinitive used as a noun), to ask, to inquire anxiously; he had gone to the land thus denoted, that “undiscovered country from whose bourne no traveller returned.” The key-text here is Job 14:10 : “Man dies, and wastes away; he giveth up the ghost (יִגְוַע הָאָדָם, yighwah ha-adam, man sighs, or gasps for breath), and where is he?” יְאַיֹּוֹ, weayyo, O, where is he? See Zechariah 1:5 : The fathers! אַיֵּה־הֵם, where are they? Compare also Job 7:21, and other places of a similar kind, all showing how natural is the connection between the wailing, questioning weayyo, and the word Sheol so immediately suggested by it.

The disappearance of Enoch from the earth was stranger than that of the ordinary death, but gave rise to the same feeling of inquiry, only in a more intensive degree. “He was not found,” οὐχ εὑρίσκετο, says the LXX, and this gives the real meaning of the Hebrew אֵינֶכּוּ, not denoting non-existence, for that would be directly contrary to what follows, but that he was nowhere to be found on earth.

Thus regarded, it is easy to see how the idea of some locality would soon attach itself to the primitive emotional conception, and in time become so predominant that the older germ of thought, that was in the etymology, would almost wholly disappear. Still the spirit of the word, its geist or ghost, to use the more emphatic German or Saxon, long haunts it after the conception has changed so as to receive into it more of the local and definite. Trench has shown how tenacious is this root-sense of old words, preserving them, like some guardian genius, from misusage and misapplication, ages after it has ceased to be directly conceptual, or to be known at all, except to the antiquarian philologist. Thus, although the cavernous or subterranean idea had become prominent in the Psalms and elsewhere, this old spirit of the word still hovers about it in all such passages; we still seem to hear the sighing weayyo; there yet lingers in the car the plaintive sheolah, denoting the intense looking into the world unknown, the anxious listening to which no answering voice is returned.

That Sheol, in its primary sense, did not mean the grave, and in fact had no etymological association with it, is shown by the fact, already mentioned, that there was a distinct word for the latter, of still earlier occurrence in the Scriptures, common in all the Shemitic languages, and presenting the definite primary conception of digging, or excavation (קבר, kbr, krb, &גרב כרב, grb, grub, grav). There was no room here for expansion into the greater thought. The Egyptian embalming, too, to one who attentively considers it, will appear still less favorable. It was a dry and rigid memorial of death, far less suggestive of continued being, somehow and somewhere, than the flowing of the body into nature through decomposition in the grave, or its dispersion by fire into the prime elements of its organization. In the supposed case, however, of Joseph’s torn and dismembered corpse, there was nothing from any of these sources to aid the conception. Yet Jacob held on to it: I will go mourning to my son, אֶל בְּנִי, not עַל, or אֶל for עַל, on account of my son, as some would take it.6 Had Joseph been lying by the side of his mother in the field near Bethlehem Ephratah, or with Abraham and Sarah, and Isaac and Rebekah, in the cave of Machpelah, or in some Egyptian sarcophagus, embalmed with costliest spices and wrapped in aromatic linen, the idea of his unbroken personality would have been no more vivid, Joseph himself (his very ipse) would have been no nearer, or more real, to the mourning father, than as he thought of his body lying mangled in the wilderness, or borne by rapacious birds to the supposed four corners of the earth. I will go to my son mourning, sheolah (שְׁאֹלָה, with ה of direction), Sheol-ward,—on the way to the unknown land.

This view of Sheol is strongly corroborated by the parallel etymology, and the parallel connection of ideas we find in the origin and use of the Greek Hades. Some would seek its primary meaning elsewhere, but it is clearly Greek, and no derivation is more obvious than the one given long ago, and which would make this word ̔́Αιδης (Homeric ’Αΐδης, with the mild aspirate) from α privative and ἰδεῖν to see. We have the very word as an adjective, with this meaning of invisible or unseen, Hesiod: “Shield of Hercules,” 477. It denotes, then, the unseen world, carrying the idea of disappearance, and yet of continued being in some state unknown. The analogy between it and the Hebrew word is perfect. So is the parallelism, all the more striking, we may say, from the fact that in the two languages the appeal is to two different senses. In the one, it is the eye peering into the dark; in the other, it is the ear intently listening to the silence. Both give rise to the same question: Where is he? whither has he gone? and both seem to imply with equal emphasis that the one unseen and unheard yet really is. Sometimes a derivative from the same root, and of the same combination, is joined with Hades to make the meaning intensive, as in the “Ajax” of Sophocles, Genesis 607:

τὸν ̔́Αιδαν

The awful, unseen Hades.
From this use has come the adjective ἀΐδιος, rendered eternal, but having this meaning from the association of ideas (the Hadean, the everlasting), since it is not etymologically connected with αἰών (see Judges 6:0, δεσμοῖς , where the two conceptions seem to unite). In truth, there is a close connection between these two sets of words (’Αΐδης and αἰών, עוֹלָם and שאול), one ever suggesting the other,—“the things that are seen are temporal (belong to time), the things that are unseen are eternal.” Hence we have in Greek the same idiom, in respect to Hades, that we have in Hebrew in relation to Olam (עוֹלָם), the counterpart of αἰών. Thus, in the former language we have the expressions, οἶκος ̔́Αιδουδόμος ̔́Αιδου, etc., corresponding exactly to the Hebrew בֵּית עוֹלָם, the house of eternity, poorly rendered his long home, Ecclesiastes 12:5. Compare the οἰκίαν αἰώνιον, the “house eternal,” 2 Corinthians 5:1. Compare also Xenophon’sAgesilaus, at the close, where it is said of the Spartan king, τὴν , “he was brought back, like one who had been away, to his eternal home.” Sec, too, a very remarkable passage, Diodorus Siculus, lib. i. Gen 51, respecting the belief of the most ancient Egyptians: “The habitations of the living they call inns, or lodging-places, καταλύσεις, since we dwell in them so short a time, but those of the dead they style οἴκους , everlasting abodes, as residing in them forever, τὸν ἄπειρον .” See also Pareau: De Jobi Notitiis, etc., on the early Arabian belief, p. 27.

Why should not Jacob have had the idea as well as these most ancient Egyptians? That his thought was more indefinite, that it had less of circumstance and locality, less imagery every way, than the Greek and Egyptian fancy gave it, only proves its higher purity as a divine hope, a sublime act of faith, rather than a poetical picturing, or a speculative dogma. The less it assumed to know, or even to imagine, showed its stronger trust in the unseen world as an assured reality, but dependent solely for its clearer revelation on the unseen God. The faith was all the stronger, the less the aid it received from the sense or the imagination. It was grounded on the surer rock of the “everlasting covenant” made with the fathers, though in it not a word was said directly of a future life. “The days of the years of my pil grimage,” says Jacob. He was “a sojourner upon earth as his fathers before him.” The language has no meaning except as pointing to a home, an ἀΐδιον οἴκησιν, an eternal habitation; whether in Sheol, or through Sheol, was not known. It was enough that it was a return unto God, “his people’s dwelling-place (מָעוֹן לָנוּ, see Psalms 90:1) in all generations.” It was, in some way, a “living unto him,” however they might disappear from earth and time; for “he is not the God of the dead.” His covenant was an assurance of the continued being of those with whom it was made. “Because he lived they should, live also.” “Art thou not from everlasting, Jehovah, my God, my Holy One? we shall not (wholly) die.” “Thou wilt lay us up in Sheol; thou wilt call and we will answer; thou wilt have regard to the work of thy hands.” The pure doctrine of a personal God, and a belief in human extinction, have never since been found conjoined. Can we believe it of the lofty theism of the patriarchal ages?

Hades, like Sheol, had its two conceptual stages, first of state, and afterwards of locality. To the Greek word, however, there was added a third idea. It came to denote, also, a power; and so was used for the supposed king of the dead, ’Αΐδης, ̓́Αις, ’Αϊδωνεύς,—ἄναξ ἐνέρων (Iliad, 20:61); and this personification appears again in the later Scripture, 1 Corinthians 15:55, O Hades, where is thy victory? and in Revelation 6:8; Revelation 20:13-14, where Hades becomes limited to Gehenna, and its general power, as keeper of souls, is abolished.—T. L.]


1. Jacob’s fondness for the younger son forms the other extreme to Isaac’s predilection for the first-born. He had, it is true, better reasons than Isaac; for Joseph is not only the son of his beloved Rachel, but also the Nazarite (the consecrated or separate one) among his brethren,—a fact to which he testifies upon his death-bed (see Genesis 49:22). But then he began to see clearly that Judah surpassed Joseph in what pertained to the future. The struggle between his predilection and his love of justice appears in more than one instance. Joseph must enter service as a shepherd’s boy; nevertheless, his father provides for him a showy garment, and keeps him at home longer than the others. He ventures his favorite upon a distant and dangerous mission, and this is a reason why he refuses to be comforted at his loss. He rebukes him for his apparently presumptuous dream, but feels compelled to keep the presaging omens in his vaticinating heart.

2. The Scriptures make no palliation of the sins of the twelve patriarchs—the fathers of the very people to whom they are sent. This shows their super-earthly origin.
3. By his dreams Joseph gets into misery, and by their interpretations he is delivered from it. The first fact would give him occasion to think closely on the ground-laws that regulate the symbolic language of dreams; and both he, and the New-Testament Joseph, are witnesses to the fact that there is a significance in them. Elsewhere have we shown the circumstances favorable to this that were possessed by both.
4. The simplicity with which Joseph relates his dreams, reminds us of Isaac’s naïve question on the way to Mount Moriah: but where is the lamb? It stands in beautiful contrast with that moral earnestness which had already, in early age, made him self-reliant in presence of his brethren.
5. Here, too, in the history of Joseph’s brethren, is there an example showing how envy passes over to animosity, animosity to fixed hatred, and hatred to a scheme of murder, just as in the history of Cain, and in that of Christ. The allegorical significance of our history, as typical of that of Christ, appears in the most diversified traits.
6. As the murderous scheme was prevented by Reuben’s plan of deliverance, and modified by Judah’s proposal, so, in the life of our Lord, the scheme of the Sanhedrin was changed more than once by arresting circumstances. Thus providence turned the destructive plots to a beneficent end. It was the chief tendency of these schemes to promote the highest glory of the hated one, whose glory they aimed to destroy.
7. Concerning the way in which these plans of Reuben and Judah cross each other, see the Exegetical and Critical. We have no right to suppose that Reuben behaved as he did in this case in order to appease his father for the wrong done in the case of Bilhah. The weakness, which, according to Genesis 49:4, was the great reproach of his character, had also its good side. Equally false is the supposition that Judah maliciously frustrated Reuben’s good intentions. Both remind us of Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, who did not consent to the sentence of the Sanhedrin; but they were less inclined to the right, and their half-measures remind us of Pilate’s attempt to save, though they had not, like him, the power in their hands; since being implicated by their former animosity towards Joseph, they could only weakly oppose their angry brethren.

8. The “coat of many colors” dipped in blood, reminds us of the deception that Jacob, in Esau’s raiment, practised upon his father. Yet it must not be overlooked, that Jacob became reconciled at Peniel. Had he been sanctified, indeed, as well as reconciled, he would not, after such bitter experience, have repeated his father’s error of an arbitrary preference of one son to another. And, in this respect, he even now atoned for a sin which had been already pardoned.
9. Jacob’s mourning shows how deeply his peace was shaken. The self-examination occasioned in pious souls, in consequence of the loss or sufferings of dear ones, especially of children, becomes a grievous self-condemnation. From this there arises a longing after death. But here, too, there must be an unconditional surrender to God’s grace. We see here, also, how “the congregation of the fathers” beyond the grave becomes a Sheol to the pre-Christian consciousness through the feeling it gives of death, of his power, of the effect of mourning as extending even to the other world. Luther has frequently translated Sheol by Hell (we find it also thus in Apost. Symb.); but a careful distinction should be made between Sheol and Gehenna.

10. These Ishmaelitish-Midianitish merchantmen are the first Ishmaelites with whom we become acquainted. They remind us of the caravan of Mohammed, that most renowned of all Ishmaelitish merchants. They testify to the outward increase and spiritual decrease of the descendants of Ishmael. They are witnesses to a heart-rending scene, but coolly pay their twenty pieces of silver, reminding us of the thirty paid by Judas, then go their way with the poor lad, who passes his home without hope of deliverance, and is for a long time, like Moses, David, and Christ, reckoned among the lost.
11. Jacob’s house shaken, burdened with a curse, given over, apparently, to destruction, and yet wonderfully saved by God’s grace and human placability (see Genesis 50:0).

12. Joseph’s character. Presageful of the future, like a prophet; simple as a child; the extraordinarily prudent son of the prudent Rachel and the prudent Jacob, yet noble-minded, and so generous that he becomes a type of New-Testament love for enemies,—God-fearing in a distant land, and yet so liberal in his universalism that he can reconcile himself to Egyptian culture, holding himself free, even to bitterness, in respect to home remembrances (see the name he gave his son Manasseh (make to forget, oblivioni tradens), and yet, at last, homesick after Canaan,—renowned for chastity, and yet not without ambition, full of high-minded and proud anticipations, and yet prepared to endure all humiliations by which Jehovah might aim to purify him. Calumniated by many, by others hastily canonized as a saint. A man of spirit and a man of action in the highest sense.


The whole chapter. Joseph sold. The sins of men and the providence of God. The character of our narrative. The chain of circumstances. The significance often of things apparently small. 1. Of Jacob’s weakness (in the case of the coat); 2. of Joseph’s dreams; 3. of his thoughtlessness; 4. of Reuben’s absence; 5. of the appearing of the Ishmaelites.—Man proposes, God disposes.—“My thoughts are not your thoughts,” etc. The sublimity of the divine decrees as compared with human schemes.

Section First. (Genesis 37:1-12.) Starke: Although Jacob had his reasons for specially loving Joseph, yet he did not act prudently in allowing it to become noticed. Parents should guard against it. Ambrose: Jungat liberos equalis gratia quos junxit (œqualis natura. Envy is a diabolical vice (Wis 2:24).7—Hall: Suffering is the road to honor.—The same: When we are loved by our Heavenly Father, and weep over our sins, we will be hated by our brethren in the flesh (1 Peter 4:4).—Bibl. Tub.: Do not unnecessarily tell your enemy what may be for your advantage.—Calwer Handbuch: Genesis 37:2. No malicious information was it, but coming from an innocent free-heartedness and a dutiful abhorrence of evil.—Lisco, on the contrary: A child-like and injudicious tale-telling.—Gerlach: As a spoiled child, he accuses his brethren to his father. [The boundary between the malicious and the dutiful here may be drawn with difficulty; yet it is to be observed, that Joseph told the father what was already spoken of by the people, that is, when it had already become an ill-fame.]—Schröder: Luther says, that Joseph narrated his dreams “like a child,” not from malice, but in simplicity and innocence.—Richter: Mark it; young Joseph saw in his dreams only his exaltation, not the humiliation that preceded it.—Heim (“Bible Studies”): The difference between the two dreams. In the first there could be only ten sheaves besides Joseph’s, since Benjamin was not present, and Joseph said to his brethren, Your sheaves. In the second, however, he beholds definitely eleven stars, therefore himself as the twelfth included.

Section Second. (Genesis 37:12-20.) Starke: Genesis 37:15. Joseph enters upon his journey in the simplicity of his heart, expecting no evil; and thus God lets him run into the net against which he could have easily warned him. God’s ways, however, are secret. Whom he wishes to exalt he first tries, purifies, tempts, and humbles. [The Rabbins and one of the Targums tell us that this man, who directed Joseph in the field, was the angel Gabriel in the form of a man.]—Hall: God’s decree precedes and is fulfilled, whilst we have no thought about it, yea, even fight against it. Though a Christian does not always prosper, though difficulties beset his way, he must not be confounded, but ever continue firm and steadfast in his calling. Genesis 37:18. Here Moses shows what kind of ancestors the Jews had (comp. Acts 7:9, etc.). Thus they fell from one sin into another. Perhaps Simeon was the ringleader; since he afterwards was bound as hostage for his brethren.—Schröder: Joseph goes in search of his brethren, and finds sworn enemies, bloodthirsty murderers.—Heim (“Bible Studies”): Shechem is about twenty-five leagues from Hebron. Joseph’s mission to this remote and dangerous country is a proof, at the same time, that Jacob did not treat him with too much indulgence, and that he did not keep him home from any feelings of tenderness. Joseph’s willing obedience, too, and his going alone, an inexperienced youth, upon such a dangerous journey, is a proof that he was accustomed to obey cheerfully—a habit not acquired in an effeminate bringing-up.

Section Third (Genesis 37:21-24). Starke: So goes the world. Pious people ponder the welfare of the godless, whilst the latter are conspiring for their destruction (1 Samuel 19:5). God can raise up, even among enemies, helpers of the persecuted. “Woe to those who draw iniquity with cords of vanity and sin, as it were with a cart-rope” (Isaiah 5:18).

Section Fourth (Genesis 37:25-27). Starke: Luther: They take their seats as though they had well done their work. Conscience is secure; sin is asleep; yet God sees all.—Schröder: [Unfavorable judgment of Judah.] Luther: O, Judah, thou art not yet purified. In Calwer Handbuch Judah is even compared to Judas, who sold the Lord. But it is allegorising merely, when we are determined in our judgment by mere outward resemblances. See the Exegetical and Critical. Judah’s proposition arose from the alternative: He must either starve to death in the pit, or he must be sold as a slave.

Section Fifth (Genesis 37:28-32). Starke: No matter what hindrances Joseph’s brethren might put in the way of the dreams’ fulfilment, against their will were they made to promote it (Psalms 55:10).—Bibl. Tub.: Thus, there is yet a spark of good in nature. If only man would not suppress this small light, he would be preserved from the greatest sins.—The same: Joseph is a type of Christ in his exaltation, in his humiliation, and especially in his being sold for thirty [twenty] pieces of silver. Genesis 37:29. Josephus thinks that Reuben came by night so as not to be detected. [One of the Targums adds, that Reuben, on account of the incest committed, had been fasting among the mountains, and, in order to find grace before his father, had intended to bring Joseph again to him.] Genesis 37:32. Thus Joseph’s brothers add sin to sin.

Section Sixth (Genesis 37:33-36). Starke: This was a punishment of God. Jacob had deceived his father Isaac by putting around his neck and hands the skin of a kid; he is himself now deceived by Joseph’s coat dipped in the blood of a kid.—Hall: One sin is made to cover another; godless men, it is true, ever try to conceal their malignity, but it comes to light at last, and is punished.—Osiander: Seldom does misfortune come alone. It is but a short time since Jacob was deprived of Rachel; now he has lost Joseph. In such a concealment of guilt they pass twenty-two years. And his father wept for him. [Luther: This was Isaac, Joseph’s grandfather, who lived still twelve years after this event.] He himself (Jacob) had several things to reproach him in his conscience: Why did he let the boy go alone on such a journey? Why did he send him into a country abounding in wild beasts?—Bibl. Wirt.: In grief we are inclined to overdo.—Osiander: Pious parents often blame themselves when things go badly with their children, even when there is the least ground for it.—Calwer Handbuch: After the crime, comes the lie; after the lie, a hypocritical comforting of the father.—Schröder: Luther: During all this time, the brethren were unable to pray to God with a good conscience.—Observe, each one of the three patriarchs was to sacrifice his dearest son.

To the whole chapter. Taube: The selling of Joseph by his brethren: 1. From what sources this horrible deed arose; 2. how the divine mouth remains silent, whilst the divine hand so much the more strongly holds; 3. the types that lie concealed.


[1][Genesis 37:2.—דִּבָּתָם רָעָה. LXX., ψόγον πονηρόν; Vulgate, more strongly, accusavit fratres suos apud patrem crimine pessimo. From דבב, an onomatope (dababdabdabble), denoting a light, oft-repeated sound (tap-tap), or motion, like the Arabic دَ بٌ leniter incessit, reptavit. In either way the noun דִּבָּה would come to mean, a rumor whispered, or creeping round. It does not mean that Joseph made accusations against them, as the Vulgate has it, but that, in boyish simplicity, he repeated what he had heard about them. The root דבב occurs only Song of Solomon 7:10, where Gesenius gives it the sense of lightly flowing, which hardly seems consistent with the radical idea of repetition. The light motion of the lips, like one muttering, or faintly attempting to speak in sleep, as our translators have given it, is more in accordance with the nature of the root.—T. L.]

[2][Genesis 37:3.—בֶּן זְקֻנִים. Rendered, son of his old age, τηλύγετος. But, as Maimonides well remarks, this could not have been the case with Joseph in a degree much exceeding the relation to the father of Issachar and Zebulon. He thinks, therefore, that he was so called, not because he was late born, but because he stayed at home, and thus became his father’s principal stay and support—“as is the custom of old men to retain one son, in this manner, whether the youngest or not—בעבור ישרת לזקוניו—that is, be to him γηροτρόφος or γηροβοσκός, as the Greeks called it.” In this view the plural form would be intensive, denoting extreme old age, to which the other places where the form occurs would well agree, Genesis 21:2; Genesis 44:20. After Joseph, Benjamin performed this duty. The Targum of Onkelos seems to have had something of this kind in view, when it renders it בר חכים לה, his wise son—his careful son, who provided for him.—T. L.]

[3][Genesis 37:3.—כְּתֹנֶת פַּסִּים, coat of many colors,—rather, coat of pieces. The context shows that it was something beautiful and luxurious; the other passage where it occurs, 2 Samuel 13:18, shows that it may denote a garment for either sex, and the plural form indicates variety of construction or material. The primary sense of the root, פסם, is diminution, not diffusion, as Gesenius says (see פִּסָּה). This is inferred from the use of אֶפֶם for something small, as the end or extremity of anything, and the parallelism of the verb, Psalms 12:2,—a garment distinguished for small spots, stripes, or fringes.—T. L.]

[4][Genesis 37:35.—On the etymology of שְׁאוֹל see Excursus, p. 585 sqq.—T. L.]

[5][Compare the Hebrew נִמֻצָא, as used Psalms 46:1, from which comes the frequent rabbinical use of the term for existence as that which is somehow present. Comp. also the Arab. وجول and الموجول ات = τὰ ὄντα, entia. Lit., things to be found.—T. L.]

[6][In proof that אֶל may have the sense of עַל, Rosenmüller refers to 1 Kings 14:5; and Rashi to 2 Samuel 21:1; 1 Samuel 4:21. But these do not bear out the inference. The sense of direction, so clear everywhere else in the hundreds of cases where this preposition אֶל occurs, is not lost even in these. “Gone is the glory of Israel” (the glory that was). It is broken, impassioned language, and we may suppose an ellipsis: she said this (looking) to the taking of the ark, etc. So, in the chief case cited, it is most vividly rendered by taking it elliptically—to the house of Saul, 2 Samuel 21:1—that is, “look not to me for the cause,” says the oracle, but “to Saul and his bloody house.” At the utmost, these very few doubtful cases cannot invalidate the clear sense that the common rendering makes here.—T. L.]

[7] [Φθόνῳ δὲ διαβόλου θάνατος εἰσῆλθεν εἰς τὸν κόσμον, through envy of the devil death entered into the world. There is something very peculiar about this sin of envy, fully justifying the epithet diabolical. In the first place, it is preeminently spiritual. It is a pure soul-sin, having least connection with the material or animal nature, and for which there is the least palliation in appetite, or in any extrinsic temptation. Its seat and origin is wholly supercarnal, except as the term carnal is taken, as it sometimes is by the Apostle, for all that is evil in humanity. A man may be most intellectual, most free from every vulgar appetite of the flesh; he may be a philosopher, he may dwell speculatively in the region of the abstract and the ideal, and yet his soul be full of this corroding malice, which the author of the book of Proverbs, describing it in its effect rather than its origin, calls “rottenness in the bones” (Proverbs 14:30), presenting it as the opposite of that “sound heart which is the life of the flesh.” In the second place, it is the most purely evil. Almost every other passion, even acknowledged to be sinful, has in it somewhat of good, or appearance of good. Revenge assumes to have, at its foundation, some sense of wrong, that allies it to justice. Nemesis claims relationship to Themis. Anger makes a similar plea, and, with some show of reason, lays part, at least, of the blame upon the nervous irritability. These, and other human passions, trace a connection, in their spiritual genealogy, between themselves and pure affections that might have belonged to man’s psychical or sensitive nature before the fall. But envy, or hatred of a man for the good that is in him, or in any way pertains to him, is evil unalloyed. To use the imagery of John Bunyan, its descent is simply Diabolonian, without any cross or mixture with anything that might allege a title to citizenship in Mansoul before it revolted from king Shaddai. Neither can it be laid, where we are so fond of charging our sins, upon the poor body. It would seem to have no natural growth from Mansoul’s material corporation, ruined as it is. It is the breath of the old serpent. It is pure devil, as it is, also, purely spiritual. It needs no body, no concupiscent organization, no appetites or fleshly motions, no nerves even, for the exercise of its devilish energies. It is a soul-poison, yet acting fearfully upon the body itself, bringing more death into it than seemingly stronger and more tumultuous passions that have their nearer seat in the fleshly nature. “It is rottenness in the bones.” We may compare this proverb of Solomon with a terrific description of envy by Æschylus, Agamem., Genesis 833:

τὸν εὐτυχοῦντα σὺν φθόνῳ βλέπειν,

δύσφρων μὲνΙΟ ìΣ καρδίαν προσήμενος,

ἄχθος διπλοίζει τῷ πεπαμμένῳ νόσον ̇

τοις τ’ αὐτὸς αὑτοῦ πήμασιν βαρύνεται,

καὶ τὸν θυραῖον ὄλβον εἰσορῶνστένει.

Envy at others’ good is evermore
Malignant poison sitting on the soul;
A double woe to him infected with it.
Of inward pain the heavy load he bears,

At sight of joy without, he ever mourns.

What inspired the Greek poets in such truthful description of the most intense evils of the soul? All bad passions are painful, but envy has a double barb to sting itself.—T. L.]

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Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Genesis 37". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". 1857-84.