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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 37

Preacher's Complete Homiletical CommentaryPreacher's Homiletical

Verses 1-17


Genesis 37:3. The son of his old age] He was ninety years old when Joseph was horn. A coat of many colours.] Heb. A tunic of parts. The expression occurs again in 2 Samuel 13:18, to describe the garment worn by kings’ daughters. “This was a coat reaching to the hands and feet, worn by persons not much occupied with manual labour, according to the general opinion. It was, we conceive, variegated either by the loom or the needle, and is therefore well rendered χιτὼν ποικίλος, a motley coat.” (Murphy.)—

Genesis 37:4. And could not speak peaceably unto him.] The meaning is, that they refused to bid him good day, or to greet him with the usual salutation, “Peace be with thee.”—

Genesis 37:9. The eleven stars.] Joseph himself being the twelfth. Knobel concludes from this that the signs of the Zodiac were not unknown to the Israelites.

Genesis 37:11. But his father observed the saying.] Heb. “Kept the word, or the matter” The word observed, as rendered by the LXX., is very nearly the same word as that used by St. Luke, “His mother kept all these things.” (St. Luke 2:19.)—

Genesis 37:12. Shechem. It was over fifty miles from Hebron. Jacob had formerly bought a piece of ground there. (Genesis 33:19.)—

Genesis 37:14. See whether it be well with thy brethren] Heb. “See the peace or the welfare,” i.e., Go and see how it fares with thy brethren and the flocks.—

Genesis 37:17. Dothan.] A town about twelve miles north of Shechem. It is only mentioned in one other place, 2 Kings 6:13-19.—



The history of Joseph commences at the opening of this chapter, and continues throughout the book. It is important, as showing how the Hebrew spirit came in contact with Egyptian culture and literature. Here we have Joseph brought before us—

I. As distinguished by his early piety. Even at this opening of Joseph’s history we can discover the signs of a high moral and devout tone of character. His brethren were of a different spirit. They were not only undevout, but were ready to commit the vilest wickedness. Joseph saw and heard things, when he was with them in the field, which vexed his righteous soul. He felt the duty laid upon him to bring report of their conversation and behavour to their father. This was not malicious tale-bearing, but the faithful performance of a sense of duty. For, where wickedness is done it ought not to be concealed. Joseph’s conduct was not back-biting, but a filial confidential report to his father.

1. It showed his love of truth and right. He would not suffer his father to be deceived by a false estimate of the conduct of his sons. He must be made acquainted with the truth, however painful, or be the consequences what they might to all concerned.

2. It showed his unwillingness to be a partaker of other men’s sins.

3. It showed a spirit of ready obedience. He knew that a faithful report of the conduct of his brethren was a duty he owed to his father. He had learned filial reverence and obedience. How readily he obeyed his father’s command when he was sent upon that long journey to Shechem. (Genesis 37:14). He entered upon the journey in all the simplicity of his heart, expecting no evil. Joseph was not entirely a spoiled child, kept at home safe from all dangers. His father had a healthy confidence in a son who was accustomed to obey cheerfully. He believed that Joseph had some hardy virtues.

II. As marked out for a great destiny. Joseph relates two of his dreams. There was no difficulty in understanding their meaning. The first showed that his brethren were to be in subjection to him, and the second that he would even have a wider dominion—his father, his mother, and his brethren bowing down before him to the earth. These dreams must be regarded as Divine intimations of his future sovereign greatness, and they were remarkably fulfilled in Egypt twenty-three years afterwards. Though Jacob chided his son for the bold uttering of his dreams, yet we are told that he “observed the saying.” (Genesis 37:10-11). He had a secret persuasion that those dreams were prophetic. And the hatred of his brethren shows a dreaded suspicion of the same prophetic import. It may not have been a shrewd policy in Joseph boldly to utter and declare these dreams before those with whom they were so intimately concerned. But he was a youth of genuine simplicity and transparency of character. He was openly honest. He had a natural fitness for future distinction and honour, and so the choice of God is justified to men.

III. As the object of envy and hatred.

1. Because of his faithful testimony. He did not join in the company of his brethren. They perceived that there was some alteration in their father’s conduct towards them, and would naturally suspect that his favourite son would be their accuser. So the world hated Jesus, because “He testified of it that the works thereof were evil.”

2. Because of his father’s partiality. (Genesis 37:4.) There was much in this that was injudicious, but it was not altogether unreasonable. Joseph was the child of the wife most beloved. His disposition was of that kind which naturally wins affection. He was the only one among his brethren who had the fear of God, or knew the duty of a Song of Solomon

3. Because of the distinction for which God had destined him. They envied him the honour which they plainly saw God had intended for him. To take it away from Joseph would not have been of any benefit to them. But such is the spirit of envy which refuses to admire, or have any complacency in that which does not belong to self. How hard it is to submit to the decisions of Providence! That spirit of hatred and envy which his brethren showed towards Joseph was like that of Cain towards Abel, of Esau towards Jacob, of Saul towards David, and of the Scribes and Pharisees towards Our Lord.


Genesis 37:1. The character of sojourners is common to all the patriarchs. Jacob afterwards claimed and confessed his character as a pilgrim before Pharaoh. “They who say such things plainly declare that they seek a country.”

The dukes of Edom had habitations in the land of their possessions. (Genesis 36:43). But Jacob, with his father Isaac, were pilgrims in the land of Canaan; content to dwell in tents here that they might dwell with God for ever. Justin Martyr saith of the Christians of his time: “They dwell in their own countries but as strangers; have right to all, as citizens; but suffer hardship, as foreigners.”—(Trapp.)

Genesis 37:2. The unsophisticated child of home is prompt in the disapproval of evil, and frank in the avowal of his feelings. What the evil was we are not informed; but Jacob’s full-grown sons were now far away from the paternal eye, and prone, as it seems, to give way to temptation. Many scandals came out to view in the chosen family.—(Murphy.)

Joseph only bore tidings to his father of conduct which had already become notorious and of ill-fame.

Genesis 37:3-4. In God’s government there is election, but no favouritism; for God judges by character. But turning to the conduct of Jacob, we find something different. True, Joseph was superior to his brethren, but there was something more; he was the son of the favourite wife and therefore the favourite child. His coat was the badge of his father’s unjust love, and therefore upon it his brethren wreaked their fury.—(Robertson.)

I see in him not a clearer type of Christ than of every Christian. Because we are dear to our Father, and complain of sins, therefore we are hated of our carnal brethren. If Joseph had not meddled with his brother’s faults, yet he had been envied for his father’s affection; but now malice is met with envy.—(Bp. Hall.)

Genesis 37:5-11. Joseph’s brethren hated him yet the more for his dreams. So the Jews did Jesus for His parables; especially when he spake of his exaltation.—(Trapp.)

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.—(Lange.)

The concealment of our hopes or abilities hath not more modesty than safety. He that was envied for his dearness, and hated for his intelligence, was both envied and hated for his dreams. Surely God meant to make the relation of these dreams a means to effect that which the dreams imported. We men work by likely means; God by contraries. Had it not been for his dreams he had not been sold; if he had not been sold, he had not been exalted. Full little did Joseph’s brethren think, when they sold him naked to the Ishmaelites, to have once seen him in the throne of Egypt. God’s decree runs on; and, while we either think not of it, or oppose it, is performed.—(Bp. Hall.)

Envy is a specially diabolical sin. “Through envy of the devil death entered into the world. (Wis. 2:24).

1. It is purely a spiritual sin, it is purely a soul-sin, owing less than any other to the temptations of the flesh. He whose chief delight is in intellectual pleasures, and is free from vulgar appetites, may yet be full of this sin of envy.

2. It is most essentially evil. Almost every other passion has in it some good, or seeming good. Revenge may claim justification from some sense of wrong, and be regarded as of near kin to justice. Anger may throw the blame upon violent passions so easily aroused. Carnal passions of every kind may charge their sins upon the body. But envy is an evil, pure and simple. It needs no body, nor nerves, nor foul desires, but springs up within the soul.
3. Other sins yield some present pleasure, but envy has nothing but torment.

Genesis 37:12-17. He stayed not at Shechem, whither his father sent him; but missing them there, he seeks farther, till he found them. This is true obedience, whether to God or man, when we look not so much to the letter of the law, as to the mind of the lawmaker.—(Trapp.)

That dream of Joseph’s regal sheaf, to which all the rest did homage, was remarkably fulfilled when his brethren came to him in Egypt for corn. They literally bowed down before him for this precious commodity.

Verses 18-28


Genesis 37:18. Conspired.] Heb. “Cunningly plotted.”—

Genesis 37:19. This dreamer.] Heb. “Lord, or master of dreams;” using the title in bitter scorn.—

Genesis 37:23. They stript Joseph of his coat.] “According to Eastern habits, it would be his only garment. He entered Egypt naked, as was the custom with slaves and captives (Isaiah 20:4), in strange contrast to his subsequent array of pomp. (Genesis 41:42.) (Alford.)—

Genesis 37:25. Ishmaelites.] In Genesis 37:28 and in Genesis 39:1, they are called Midianites. The caravan consisted, probably, of both of these. The general meaning is. “Arabian Merchants.” Gilead. Celebrated for a precious balm. (Jeremiah 8:22; Jeremiah 46:11.) Spicery. This is a species of gum called tragacanth. Balm. It was a very precious gum obtained from the balsam tree, almost peculiar to Palestine. (Alford.)—Myrrh. Gum, laudanum.

Genesis 37:28. Twenty pieces of silver.] The price of a lad under twenty years of age. (Leviticus 27:5.) The full price of a slave was thirty shekels. (Exodus 21:32.)



The brethren of Joseph conspired against him to slay him. (Genesis 37:18.) This foul crime furnishes—

I. An example of the rapidly downward course of evil. Joseph’s brethren at first envied him, then envy passed into animosity, animosity into fixed hatred, and fixed hatred rapidly grew into a scheme of murder. So steep is the descent from the evil things within the heart of man to the lowest depths of crime.

II. An example of the bold daring of sinners. Joseph’s brethren are prepared to brave all the consequences. They are ready with a deceitful story to account to their father for the loss of his favourite son. (Genesis 37:20.) They trust to artifice, falsehood, cunning, and deceit. They are daring enough to cover up their crime with a lie.

III. An example of guilt incurred even where purpose has not ripened into act. Joseph’s brethren were guilty of murder though they stopped short of the deed. Thought and act are the same in the sight of God. (Matthew 5:28.) It was not for killing his brother (for that might have been accidental), but for killing him through hatred, that Cain was branded a murderer. (1 John 3:15.) Murder is the goal or limit to which hatred tends when not repressed. But these men were prevented from carrying out their purpose, not by unforeseen circumstances, not by fear at a sudden realization of the magnitude of their crime, but by the love of gain,—stronger in them than even their hatred and purpose of murder. It was not the voice of conscience, or the effect of grace, but the power of another passion that comes in here to stay the hand of crime. It was the triumph of avarice over malice. (Genesis 37:27-28.) One sin is sometimes cast out by another. Devils may be cast out by Beelzebub, the prince of the devils.

IV. An example of degrees of guiltiness even among those who have lent themselves to one design. The brethren of Joseph were not all equally guilty. Simeon, Levi, and others wished to slay him, but Judah proposed his being sold into captivity. (Genesis 37:26-27.) Reuben proposed to cast him into a pit, intending, probably, to fetch him out when the others were not by. He wanted to save Joseph, but secretly, for he had not courage enough to save him openly. All this shows that the brethren were not equally guilty, though the motive of the least culpable among them was not superior virtue, but some softness of character, or the influence of a stronger temptation.


Genesis 37:18. In an honest and obedient simplicity, Joseph comes to inquire of his brethren’s health, and now may not return to carry news of his own misery: whilst he thinks of their welfare, they are plotting his destruction. Who would have expected this cruelty in them, which should be the fathers of God’s church?—(Bp. Hall.)

Cain has left a name of infamy to all generations of mankind. But where shall we find nine men conspiring at once to kill a brother—a brother whose amiable qualities deserved their warmest love—who tenderly loved them, and was in the very act of showing his love to them at the time when their fury broke loose upon him. Joseph had too good reason, as David afterwards had to say in the person of Christ, “For my love they are mine adversaries.”—(Bush.)

Genesis 37:19-20. Who will say that the workers of iniquity have no knowledge? They have all the cunning as well as the cruelty of the old serpent. But what do they mean by that sarcastic saying, we shall see what will become of his dreams? If they had considered them as feigned through ambition, they would not have felt half the resentment. They considered these dreams as the intimations of heaven, and their language included nothing less than a challenge to the Almighty. But is it possible that they could think of thwarting the Divine counsels? It is possible. Witness Pharaoh’s pursuit of Israel, after all that he had seen and felt of the Divine judgments; Saul’s attempts on David’s life; Herod’s murder of the children of Bethlehem; and the conspiracy of the Jews against Christ, who, as many of them knew had raised Lazarus from the dead, and done many miracles. Yes, we will kill him, say they, and then let God advance him to honour if He can! But they shall see what will become of his dreams. They shall see them accomplished by the very means they are concerting to overthrow them. Thus, though the kings of the earth take counsel together against the Lord and against His Anointed, He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh at them, the Lord shall have them in derision. Joseph’s brethren, like the sheaves in the dream, should make obeisance to him; and at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow.—(Fuller.)

Genesis 37:21-22. Reuben, though he had been very wicked (Genesis 35:22), shows now a tender heart.—(Jacobus.)

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.—(Lange.)

He was not cruel, simply because he was guilty of a different class of sin. It is well for us, before we take credit to ourselves for being free from this or that sin, to inquire whether it be banished by grace or only by another sin. You are not censorious, but then pause and ask whether you are not too lax to be censorious. You are not a tale-bearer or a busybody, but are you certain that you have in you sufficient love for others to make you at all interested in these matters?—(Robertson.)

That weakness of character for which Reuben was remarkable, had also its good side. It rendered him incapable of committing some sins.

Genesis 37:23-24. It was not enough to injure him, they must also insult him. Thus Jesus was stripped and degraded before He suffered. Now it was, as they afterwards confessed one to another in the Egyptian prison, that they saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought them, and they would not hear. (Genesis 42:21.)—(Fuller.)

How dearly did he purchase this honour bestowed upon him by his father! They no doubt considered it as an insult to themselves that he came to them decked with this trophy of his superior standing in the patriarch’s regard. His robe, the evidence of Jacob’s tender regard, might have reminded them that to murder Joseph was in effect to murder their father. It would deprive him of the comfort of life and fill up all the rest of his days with bitterness and sorrow.—(Bush.)

The Lord delivers His people from the pit of their sins and sorrows.—(Zechariah 9:11.)

All the spite of his brethren cannot make Joseph cast off the livery of his father’s love. What need we care for the censures of men, if our hearts can tell us we are in favour with God?—(Bp. Hall.)

Genesis 37:25. To weep for their wickedness, they should have sat down rather. But the devil had drawn a hard hoof over their hearts, that either they felt no remorse of what they had done, for the present; or else they sought to ease themselves of it by eating and merrymaking. “They drank wine in bowls, but no man was sorry for the affliction of Joseph.” (Amos 6:6).—(Trapp.)

Observe the calmness of these men after their crime. We often think respecting the tyrants of whom we read in history, that they must have been haunted by the furies. It is not so, there is a worse doom for sin than this; it is that it makes the heart callous and forgetful of its presence. If there were but the sting it would be well, for it would lead to reformation.—(Robertson.)

Egypt was their market. This agrees with the testimony of classic historians, as Homer and Herodotus, who tells us that Egypt was a storehouse for drugs, and a seat of physicians.—(Jacobus.)

Genesis 37:26. It were to be wished, that whenever we are tempted to sin, we would ask ourselves this question, What profit is it?—(Trapp.)

Genesis 37:27-28. Judah’s proposal contains words of mercy, but it was mercy mixed with covetousness. It is not unusual for covetous men to urge their objects under a show of generosity and kindness. But if he did, it was the “profit” that wrought upon the company. The love of money induced them to sell their brother for a slave. A goodly price at which they valued him! But let not Joseph complain, seeing a greater than he was sold by Judas Iscariot for but a little more.—(Fuller.)

Reuben and Judah remind us of Joseph of Arimathæa 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.—(Lange.)

Little did the Ishmeelitish merchants know what a treasure they bought, carried, and sold; more precious than all their balms and myrrhs. Little did they think that they had in their hands the lord of Egypt, the jewel of the world. Why should we contemn any man’s meanness, when we know not his destiny?—(Bp. Hall.)

The saints of God are His princes, His portion, His heirs; but they are in a strange country; they are unknown in the world.
These merchantmen testify to the outward increase and spiritual decrease of the descendants of Ishmael. They are witnesses to a heartrending 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.—(Lange.)

Verses 29-36


Genesis 37:35. The grave.] Heb. Sheol. The unseen world, or the place of departed spirits. The A.V. also renders this word in some places hell, in others the pit. Probably derived from Heb. verb sha-al, to ask or inquire. It is that condition in which we ask after the lost ones. Where are they? Others derive it from a word which means cavity or pit. It is ever craving, never satisfied, demanding the whole human race.



I. It was deep and overwhelming. Jacob had felt many a sorrow before, had mourned over the loss of those who were dear, but this sorrow went the deepest to his heart. The other calamities which fell upon him seemed to be more directly from the hand of God. They were to be expected in the ordinary course of Providence. But this fatality which happened to his beloved son would raise in him painful and inevitable self-questionings, and a sad sense of self condemnation. He could impute the blame to no one but himself. Why did he let the boy go alone on such a journey? Why did he send him without protection into a country abounding in wild beasts? Of course our sympathy is relieved when we know that Jacob’s sorrows were founded upon no real ground of fact. But it was all real to him. This was the saddest sorrow of all.

II. It was inconsolable. “He refused to be comforted.” (Genesis 37:35.) It seemed now as if his whole house had been given over to destruction, every prospect ruined! He speaks as one who had lost all hope in life. To allow grief to overwhelm the soul, and sink it into such depths of sorrow, betokens a want of confidence in God and in the power of His supporting grace. Eminent saints may have grievous afflictions, but even then they should not speak of them as insupportable. God had dispelled many dark clouds for Jacob before, and he should not have given way to despondency now.

III. It cast him upon the future. He ought to have sought God’s consolations in this world, though he looked to the future for full satisfaction and recompence. But he renounced the hope of seeing any more good in what remained to him of this present life. “I will go down,” he said, “into the grave unto my son mourning.” The word rendered “grave” is the Heb. Sheol, the place to which the souls of men depart after death, and where they await God. Jacob did not expect to go to his son in the grave, for (as he believed) Joseph had no grave. The Hebrews had a well-known word for “grave” (Genesis 23:9), which would have been employed here had it been intended to convey the idea of the last resting-place of the body. Surely Jacob looked beyond the grave, where was assembled the congregation of the fathers who had resigned their souls to God. The form of the Heb. word has the idea of direction, Shoel-ward. Thus he speaks of his life as passing on to that unknown land. He does not contemplate a state of non-existence. Joseph was still his son. There was a tie still between them. Each had a personality undestroyed. His son had a being somehow and somewhere. Jacob had learned from the promises of the Covenant that God was his God, and surely he must have felt the conviction that this sacred relationship would not end at death, but last on for ever. “He is not a God of the dead, but of the living,” for all live unto Him.” (Luke 20:37-38.)


Genesis 37:29-30. His intentions were good, and his plan seemed to be well concerted, but it was not successful. It was not by Reuben that Joseph was to be delivered; he must yet pass through a deep scene of affliction before he obtains that glory for which he was destined. God often blasts the designs that are formed for the good of His people, not because He frowns upon them, but because the whole work is not yet accomplished which He intends to accomplish by their afflictions.—(Bush.)

The day came when Joseph’s brethren were compelled to hear Reuben and to remember bitterly this time.—(Genesis 42:22).

Genesis 37:31-32. They could not deny themselves the brutal pleasure of thus insulting their father, even in the hour of his distress, for his former partiality.—(Fuller.)

Genesis 37:33-34. 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.—(Lange.)

It is no evil beast, but men more cruel than tigers that have done towards him what is done; but thus Jacob thought, and thus he mourned. We are ready to wonder how Reuben could keep his counsel; yet with all his grief he did so; perhaps he might be afraid of his own life.—(Fuller.)

Genesis 37:35. Joseph’s brethren add sin to sin, and dare to cover all with the infamous hypocrisy of comforting their father, when they themselves were the cause of his grief.

Jacob renounced the hope of seeing any more good in this world when his choicest comfort in life was taken away. He had the prospect of no days of gladness when Joseph, the joy of his heart, was torn in pieces by wild beasts. But he did not know what joys were yet before him in the recovery of his long lost son. We know not what joys or what sorrows are before us. It is rash, therefore, to prejudge the allotments of Providence, to infer the permanence of what we now feel. At any rate, we have no reason to despond while God’s throne continues firm and stable in heaven.—(Bush.)

Genesis 37:36. Little did the Egyptians dream that their future lord was come to be sold in their country; still less did they know the dignity and glory of our Lord Jesus Christ when He was brought into their country by another Joseph, and by Mary his wife. Time brings the real characters and dignity of some men to light.—(Bush.)

Little knew Joseph what God was in doing. Have patience, till He have brought both ends together.—(Trapp).

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Genesis 37". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/phc/genesis-37.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
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