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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 37

Grant's Commentary on the BibleGrant's Commentary

Verses 1-36


How significant is the truth of verse 1, "Jacob lived in the land where his father sojourned, in the land of Canaan." It had taken him some years to finally settle there, but even though dwelling, he was still really only a sojourner (Hebrews 11:9). He did not remain indefinitely, but later went down to Egypt, where he died (ch.46:5-6; 49:33).

We have seen in Chapter 36 a long list of the generations of Esau, but a great contrast faces us in Chapter 37, where we read of the generations of Jacob. Remarkably, his generations center simply in Joseph (v.2): there is no list of names. The answer to this is simply that the true genealogy of the line of faith centers in the person of the Lord Jesus, of whom Joseph is a type. Working together with his half-brothers in feeding Jacob's flocks, he brought to his father the report of their bad practices. If these things were of a serious nature, it may have been necessary for Joseph to do this, but scripture does not say one way or the other. On the other hand, we know that the Lord Jesus was always right in communing with His Father about the evils of His brethren according to the flesh.

Verse 3 tells us that Jacob loved Joseph more than all his other sons. This was Jacob's failure, for love in a family should be thoroughly impartial and concerned about the true welfare of every child. However, above all this, we are reminded in this history that God's love for His Son is necessarily unique. The garment of many colors Jacob made for Joseph (v.3) is typical of the many features of the glories of the Lord Jesus, for indeed all the colors of the rainbow are involved in giving us some little picture of the attributes of this blessed person in His very nature as the eternal God.

However, the love of Jacob for Joseph drew out the bitter animosity of his brothers. Jacob was to blame for this, or course, not Joseph, but the same thing has happened in many families. In the case of the Lord Jesus, Israel hated both Him and His Father (John 15:24), nor did they have the slightest excuse for this, as Jacob's brethren might have had for hating Joseph.

We read now of two dreams manifestly sent by God to Joseph, who told them to his brothers, only thereby increasing their hatred toward him. We may question, was it morally appropriate that Joseph should tell them his dreams? But it is clear that God overruled this in His sovereign wisdom, and we are reminded that the Lord Jesus told the Pharisees, "I tell you, hereafter you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven" (Matthew 26:64).

In Joseph's first dream he tells his brothers that he and they were binding sheaves of grain in the field: his sheaf arose and stood erect, and those of his brothers all bowed down to his sheaf (v.7). Joseph did not likely understand that God designed the dream as prophetic of the fact that Joseph's brothers would yet bow to his authority, as chapter 42:6 tells us they did. Of course, the most vital lesson here is that all Israel will yet bow to the Lord Jesus, whom they have despised and hated. At the time Joseph's brothers considered it ridiculous that he would ever have dominion over them (v.8).

The second dream seems to have awakened thoughts of questioning in his brothers minds. When he told them and also told his father that he dreamed that the sun and moon and eleven stars bowed down to him, his father rebuked him, evidently feeling it was pride on Joseph's part that occasioned the dream, for he realized that the implication was plain that both he and Rachel and his eleven children would bow down to Joseph. But his brothers envied him. Did this not indicate that they were apprehensive that Joseph would have such a place of authority? We know too that it was not only unbelief on the part of the Jewish leaders that moved their rejection of Christ, but envy (Matthew 27:18).


Joseph's brothers had gone to Shechem to feed their father's flock. Shechem means "shoulder," and speaks of assuming responsibility, which Israel did under law. So the Lord Jesus, sent by the Father, came to the place where Israel was responsible to be, under the law God had given them. Joseph was sent "from the valley of Hebron" (v.14). Hebron means "communion," reminding us that the Father sent His Son from the place of intimate communion, which had been the portion of the Father and the Son from all the past eternity.

Joseph did not find his brothers at Shechem, however, just as the Lord Jesus did not find Israel in the place of obedience to the law of God. A man found Joseph wandering in the field and asked what he was looking for (v.15). Then the man was able to tell him that he had heard his brothers proposing to go to Dothan (v.17). This holds a most instructive lesson for us. Dothan means "their decree." Just as Joseph thus found his brothers at Dothan, so the Lord Jesus found Israel in a place of their own decrees and traditions, rather than in the place of subjection to the law of God. He told the Pharisees and scribes, "You have made the commandment of God no effect by your tradition. Hypocrites, Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying, These people draw near to me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. And in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men" (Matthew 15:6-9, NKJV).

When Joseph was still some distance from his brothers they saw him coming and plotted against him to put to death (vs.19-20). Herod, from the time of the birth of the Lord Jesus, was determined to kill Him (Matthew 2:13-16). However, at this time God's sovereign protection was evident, for Reuben, the oldest of the brothers, had some sense of responsibility for a younger brother and was to able to influence them not to kill him. Similarly, though the Jews sought often to kill the Lord Jesus, they could not do so until the time God Himself had appointed. In the meantime their fear of consequences restrained them (Matthew 21:45).

Reuben suggested simply putting Joseph into a pit from which he could not escape, intending himself to afterward liberate Joseph so that he could return to his father (v.22). He evidently felt that, being the oldest, he would be answerable to his father for what the brothers did, for evil does not generally continue long without being discovered.

They likely took pleasure in stripping Joseph of his coat of many colors, on account of their jealousy toward him because of his father's favoritism (v.13). All of this reminds us of men taking the garments of the Lord Jesus and casting lots for them at the time of His crucifixion (Matthew 27:35). Then also, just as Joseph's brothers coolly sat down to eat, so we are told of those who crucified the Lord, "sitting down they watched Him there" (Matthew 27:36).

But an unexpected opportunity arises, of which the brothers take selfish advantage. When a company of Ishmaelite traders appear, traveling toward Egypt, Judah is not slow to recognize an ideal way of getting rid of Joseph and at the same time gaining some monetary profit. He therefore indicates to his brothers that if they killed Joseph and tried to conceal the fact, they would make no profit from this, but in selling him as a slave to the Ishmaelites they would realize a profit as well as having no problem as to how to dispose of a dead body. He also appeals to their sense of some loyalty to dispose of a dead body. He also appeals to their sense of some loyalty to their family relationship. Joseph was their brother (v.27). He seems to have a conscience against killing his brother, but no conscience against selling him as a slave!

The brothers sold Joseph for 20 pieces of silver. There are two points here that compare with Israel's rejection of Christ. He was sold for 30 pieces of silver, and also the Jews delivered Him into the hands of Gentiles. Joseph is taken down to Egypt.

Reuben evidently was not present when the brothers sold Joseph, and his returning to the pit he is shocked to find him gone (v.29). His question to his brothers, "and I, where shall I go?" shows his fear of being held accountable. Did he perhaps think that Joseph had escaped and returned to report the whole matter to his father?

Of course the brothers would have to tell Reuben of their selling Joseph. Now they devised the plot of dipping Joseph's coat in the blood of a goat, and bringing it to Jacob, saying they had found it (v.32). Thus they were guilty of cruel hatred both toward their brother and toward their father. They ask their father to examine the coat, to make sure it was Joseph's Of course, in recognizing it he surmised that a wild animal had killed and eaten his son. Apparently it did not occur to him to ask them if they found bones in the vicinity or other articles of clothing. For a wild animal would not be so careful as to hide everything else and leave only a bloodstained coat.

Jacob was crushed to the point of deepest depression. This son was one in whom he had found greatest comfort. Now he is certain that Joseph has been killed. His mourning continued for his son over a long period of time, and though all his sons and his daughters sought to comfort him, he did not respond to this. Of course the comforting of his sons would be hypocritical, and we may be sure that Jacob's intense sorrow made their consciences more perturbed. He tells them that the agony of his mourning will not be relieved before he goes "down to Sheol,"the unseen state of soul and spirit when death takes place.

In the meanwhile the Midianites, taking Joseph to Egypt, sold him as a slave to the captain of Pharaoh's bodyguard, named Potiphar. Nothing is said here of how intensely Joseph felt the trauma of his ordeal. But we learn something of this in his brothers' later words to one another, "we saw the distress of his soul when he pleaded with us, yet we would not listen" (ch.42:21). Now taken to a far distant country and made a slave at the tender age of 17, how many must have been the hours of his painful agony!

Bibliographical Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Genesis 37". Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lmg/genesis-37.html. 1897-1910.
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