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Bible Commentaries

Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible

Genesis 37

CHAP. XXXVII.

Joseph relates his dreams to his brethren: they envy him; and, conspiring his death, first cast him into a pit, and afterwards sell him to some merchants, who carry him down to AEgypt, and sell him to Potiphar. Jacob, supposing him slain, laments him with the deepest grief.

Before Christ 1871.

Verse 1

Genesis 37:1. His father was a stranger i.e.. A sojourner, not one of the original inhabitants and possessors of the land: the Hebrew, in the margin of our Bibles, in the land of his father's sojourning, is perhaps the most proper. The LXX have it, in which his father dwelt.

Verse 2

Genesis 37:2. These are the generations of Jacob i.e.. These are the things which befel Jacob, the transactions of him and his family. As nothing is here said of genealogy, or beget-ting children, it is plain that the original word here, as in some other passages of Scripture, should be rendered the history. Two reasons are generally assigned, why Moses is more full in relating the adventures of Joseph, than of any other of Jacob's children. The one, because his life is a bright example of piety, chastity, meekness, and prudence: the other, because it was by the means of Joseph that Jacob went down into AEgypt. And as his going down gave occasion to the wonderful departure of the children of Israel thence, so the history of the Jews would have been imperfect, and indeed altogether unintelligible, without a longer account than ordinary of Joseph's life and transactions there.

Was with the sons of Bilhah, &c.— Hence it is plain, that the sons of Jacob fed their flocks separately; the sons of Leah were not with those of the concubines: this remark may be of use in the conclusion of the chapter. There were three great sources of hatred and envy towards Joseph, from his brethren; the first, springing from his superior piety and virtue, his disapprobation of their evil conduct, and his acquainting his father with it; the second, from his father's partial love to him; and the third, from his dreams.

Verse 3

Genesis 37:3. Son of his old age We find Benjamin too was particularly beloved by Jacob; but he was not yet grown up to give proofs of superior piety and virtue, as Joseph had done. Jacob was about ninety years old, when Joseph was born. Onkelos renders it, because he was a wise son to him, taking old age for the prudence of old age. Josephus assigns the same reason; and several of the versions concur.

A coat of many colours As a token of his affection and superior regard to Joseph, Jacob caused to be made for him a robe of stuff of different colours, which was formerly worn by persons of the first distinction only, and which the father gave his son as a mark of pre-eminence. An ingenious French author (who has written a dissertation on this subject) observes, that "though it is not expressly said, yet we may gather from the circumstances attending this robe, that Jacob, in giving it to his son, exempted him from the employments in which his brethren were occupied; and, accordingly, we do not see him, after this gift, keep sheep with his brethren: he staid at home to comfort his father, as Benjamin did afterwards; but with this difference, the one only succeeded the other. The patriarchs bore an equality with kings, who only in early times wore this kind of robe: they made treaties with kings, enjoyed the same honours with them, and gave those honours to such of their sons as they thought fit to distinguish."

Verse 4

Genesis 37:4. Could not speak peaceably The usual salutation with the Eastern nations was, peace be unto thee, which Dr. Shaw assures us is still retained among them; and may be one reason for the frequent use of the word "peace" in the New Testament.

REFLECTIONS.—Nothing of the pathetic perhaps ever equalled the history of Joseph, which makes the principal part of the remainder of this book. The variety of the events, and the different distresses, with the happy conclusion of the whole, form one of the most affecting and pleasing relations, that ever was penned.

1. His father's love began presently to appear towards him, as the peculiarity of his circumstances and conduct seemed to deserve. He was the son of his old age, the son of his beloved Rachel, a dutiful son, industrious and diligent; and better, a pious son, who joined not in his brethren's evil, but for their good informed his father, that they might receive from him that admonition which from a younger brother would have been despised. This procured him distinction from Jacob; and his variegated coat bespoke at once the affection of the father and the desert of the son, and at the same time awakened the envy of his brethren. Note; Though one child may justly deserve more than another, it is dangerous for a parent to appear partial.

2. His brethren's anger also appeared. The coat of many colours was a sad eye-sore, and his reporting their wickedness still more provoking. Note; (1.) Fine clothes are, as often as any thing, apt to excite envy. Children of one house should be dressed on an equality. (2.) Those who are desirous to have sin reproved, must expect to get ill will often for their kindness.

Verse 5

Genesis 37:5. Joseph dreamed—and they hated him yet the more Every thing conspired to inflame the envy and malice of his brethren. Artabanus and Justin* ascribe, and very justly, this envy to Joseph's superiority over his brethren in wisdom, piety, and virtue. It will appear very plain from the sequel how these dreams were fulfilled, all of which imported the same thing, the submission of the whole family to Joseph: but it deserves observation, how readily the father and the brethren interpreted these dreams, as if the science was perfectly familiar to them. Bishop Warburton's fourth book of the Divine Legation should be read on this subject. He observes, that the method of conveying ideas is either by figures or sounds. In conveying ideas by figures, the picture or image of a thing to be conveyed, was represented: thus the idea of a horse was represented by the picture of that animal; but this method being attended with inconveniences, 1st, the principal circumstance in the subject was made to stand for the whole; thus a scaling ladder was painted to represent a siege. 2nd, The instrument of a thing, whether real or metaphorical, was put for the thing itself: thus an eye eminently placed, denoted omniscience, and an eye and a sceptre a monarch. 3rdly, One thing stood for another, when any quaint resemblance or analogy in the representative could be collected from nature or tradition: thus, the sun-rise was denoted by the two eyes of the crocodile, because they seem to emerge from its head: and he who had borne misfortunes with courage, and surmounted them, was signified by the hyaena; because the skin of that animal was supposed to be invulnerable. In sleep, where the information is rather by figures than by sound, ideas are commonly conveyed by pictures, which are termed dreams; and the whole art of the interpretation of dreams, is founded on this hypothesis. Dreams may be divided into speculative and allegorical: the first kind is that which represents a plain and direct picture of the thing predicted; the second is an oblique intimation of it, by a typical or symbolic image. The dream of Joseph was of this latter species.

* See Eusebii Praepar. Evangel. lib. ix. c. 23. and Justin. lib. xxxvi. c. 2.

Verse 10

Genesis 37:10. He told it to his father, &c.— The old man, it is evident, was struck with the dream, and doubted not of its bearing an important meaning; he observed the saying; but fearing, perhaps, lest the young man might be too much elevated by the idea of superiority over his brethren, and thus incur their higher resentment, he thought fit to rebuke him, and to insinuate an impossibility in the completion, as the mother was dead, whom the moon was understood to signify; shall I and thy mother, &c. But the dream received a sufficient accomplishment in the submission of all the family to Joseph: and literally the other wives of Jacob, Bilhah especially, might be called his mother. St. Chrysostom, in his homily on the place, agrees with what has been advanced: Jacob, says he, might think it convenient to give this calm check to a spirit so elated as this young man's must have been by those great and certain expectations which God was pleased in so extraordinary a manner to set before him. The foreknowledge of all that glory and greatness which was one day to be his portion, might have put him on a wrong bias of behaviour, might have tempted him to antedate his superiority, and fail, or waver, more or less, in his duty to his elder brethren, if not to his father himself: and this seems to be the meaning of Jacob's mentioning his mother, who was dead, and did not well comport with his dream: but, at the same time, that in prudence he was willing to prevent any vain aspiring conceits or tumours in his son, in faith he was persuaded that the fact would prove such as it was foretold.

REFLECTIONS.—Joseph begins to enjoy Divine communications.

1. We have two prophetical dreams, signifying that advancement for which God designed him. His brethren and his father must become his supplicants. These dreams he in simplicity relates, little suspecting the consequence. Note; Many young people, setting out in life, dream of nothing but prosperity, and overlook the trouble they should expect to encounter in the way to it.

2. His brethren are highly exasperated, and give his dreams an interpretation which was true in its issue, when at the same time they both despised and feared him in their hearts. Note; They who now despise the government of Jesus, must one day bow to it either as obedient servants, or as condemned criminals.

3. His father is not pleased. Possibly he might blame himself for having put high thoughts in the young man's head. Note; It is right for those parents, who are most fond, never to spare the needful rebuke, especially when their partiality may have given occasion to pride. But he observes the saying, being no stranger to the Divine notices frequently conveyed in visions of the night.

Verse 14

Genesis 37:14. So he sent him out of the vale of Hebron, &c.— Hebron, where Jacob now dwelt, was at a considerable distance (sixty miles, according to Ainsworth) from Shechem, where Jacob having purchased some lands, ch. Genesis 33:19. his sons, driving their flocks to pasture according to the custom from place to place, came thither to feed them: and Jacob, not having heard of them for some time, began to be solicitous about their welfare, as the remembrance of their behaviour towards the Shechemites, see ch. 34: could not fail to fill his mind with uneasy apprehensions. Joseph found them in Dothan, about eight miles north from Shechem: and thus the fond father himself furnished his sons with an opportunity to wreak their revenge on his favourite! so blind are men to events, which yet, as the consequence shewed, the Wisdom of Providence over-rules to the most important ends! Dr. Wall is of opinion, that this was not that Shechem where they had so lately murdered and robbed the people, and where they had been afraid of being pursued by their neighbours. The LXX make a difference in the spelling of that name and this; here it is, εις Συχεμ ; that Shechem they always call Σηκιμα, and would have said, εν Σηκιμοις; and the Vulgate generally observes the difference, but not always. That Shechem was more northward; this Shechem and Dothan, which must be nigh it, was in the way which the Ishmaelites took from Gilead to AEgypt.

Verse 21

Genesis 37:21. Reuben heard—and he delivered, &c.— It should seem by this, as if they had seized upon Joseph as he approached nearer to them, and were about to dispatch him; when Reuben interposed, and saved his life. As Reuben was the eldest brother, he had probably most authority among them; but, knowing the inveteracy of their malice, he despaired of being able to save Joseph's life by open and direct methods, and therefore gave them the political counsel mentioned, Gen 37:22 which promised equally to effect their end, in a way apparently more humane, and at the same time calculated to preserve Joseph's life, which was all he aimed at. Accordingly, he carried his point: they cast the envied youth into a pit, or cistern, probably of that sort which were dug in those countries for water. See Jeremiah 2:13. And, as if they had done some great exploit, without feeling and without remorse, they sat down to eat and to drink, Jeremiah 2:25. Reuben perhaps might think himself most concerned to save his brother, as being the first-born, and therefore likely to be the first in the blame; or he might hope, by thus piously and compassionately preserving the favourite Joseph, to recover that place in his father's affection which he had lost by his incest with Bilhah, Jacob's concubinary wife. The speech, which Josephus introduces him as making upon this occasion, is very moving, and very rhetorical: "It were an abominable wickedness," says he, "to take away the life even of a stranger. But to destroy a kinsman and a brother, and in that brother a father too, with grief, for the loss of so good and so hopeful a son—bethink yourselves, if any thing can be more diabolical! Consider, that there is an all-seeing God, who will be the avenger as well as the witness of this horrid murder. Bethink yourselves, I say, and repent of your barbarous purpose. You must never expect to commit this flagitious villainy, and the Divine vengeance not overtake you; for God's Providence is everywhere, in the wilderness as well as in the city; and the horrors of a guilty conscience will pursue you wherever you go. But, put the case your brother had done you some wrong; yet, is it not our duty to pass over the offences of our friends? When the simplicity of his youth may justly plead his excuse, his brothers certainly, of all men living, should be his friends and guardians, rather than his murderers; especially when the ground of all your quarrel is this, that God loves your brother, and your brother loves God." Josephus, lib. II. c. 3.

REFLECTIONS.—Malice only waits for opportunity, and now it is come.

1. Jacob sends Joseph to inquire after his brethren; and he, like a dutiful son, and an affectionate brother, cheerfully hastes to seek them; and when he is disappointed at Shechem, where he expects to find them, he inquires them out diligently, and follows them to Dothan. Note; (1.) Joseph's dutiful obedience must be every son's example. (2.) It were happy if his love to those who hated him, were also more imitated by every Christian professor.

2. His brethren's conspiracy against him. His coat easily distinguished him at a distance (so dangerous often are our honours!), and roused the latent sparks into a flame. They resolve instantly on his death, while a lie should conceal the murder, and then there would be an end of his dreams. Note; (1.) All anger is murder in the heart. (2.) Those who mock at God's designs, and think to disappoint them, will only expose themselves to shame at last. (3.) We see how natural a lying spirit is to man. We have hardly yet had a wicked action, but there has been a lie to conceal it.

3. God raises him a friend in Reuben. He appears the most susceptive of tender passions, and averse from blood. To rescue Joseph, had been impracticable: he therefore proposes to divert the rage he saw, by casting him into a pit, where they must conclude he would die; but from which he resolved afterwards to recover him. Note; By yielding something to raging passions, we may often better prevail, than by direct opposition.

Verse 25

Genesis 37:25. A company of Ishmeelites They are called both Ishmeelites and Midianites, Genesis 37:28.; see Judges 8:1. It is most likely that they were, to use a modern phrase, a caravan of Arabian spice-merchants, consisting both of Midianites and Ishmeelites, travelling in companies for their greater safety, as it continues to be the custom in those countries to this day: and the spices, &c. which they carried down to AEgypt, were such, most probably, as they used in embalming their dead; see ch. 50: Judges 8:2. For Gilead; see ch. Genesis 31:21; Genesis 31:48.

Verse 28

Genesis 37:28. Twenty pieces of silver About forty-seven shillings English, as it is generally understood to mean twenty shekels: an inconsiderable price; but they were in haste to get rid of him, upon any terms. Who discerns not, in all this transaction, a striking resemblance of the Jews' envy and hatred to him, who was wiser and better than themselves, who was sold for thirty pieces of silver, and whom Joseph prefigured in many circumstances?

Verse 29

Genesis 37:29. And Reuben returned unto the pit, &c.— We remarked on Gen 37:2 that the sons of Jacob fed their flocks separately: this is confirmed by the present verse. For it is unquestionable, that Reuben, after he had saved his brother Joseph's life, left the rest of them, probably to attend his own flock; and determined to return to the pit, and rescue Joseph from it. But when he came, a stranger to what had passed, and found him not there, he was in the greatest agonies of grief, apprehending his destruction. Nor does it appear that his brethren informed him of what they had done: if they did, however, he agreed with them in the story which they related to their afflicted father. Nothing can be imagined more cruel and inhuman, than their conduct throughout all this affair: one cannot in any measure excuse their savage treatment of their aged father!

REFLECTIONS.—Now the envied coat is torn from his back: remorse or pity find no place in the envenomed hearts of his brethren: in vain his prayers, his tears, his anguish; they drag him to the pit, and cast him in, intending a death of famine, more dreadful than the sword: then, hardened and relentless, they sit down to eat bread; and while they satisfy their own hunger, never think on Joseph's affliction. Note; 1. God's Providences appear darkest, when deliverance is nearest. 2. Crying sins often stupefy the conscience to a most amazing degree of insensibility. But now, an unexpected event delivers Joseph from the pit: a caravan of merchants going to AEgypt, passes by; Judah proposes to sell, rather than kill him; he would, they thought, be as effectually sent out of the way; and thus they gratify their covetousness, as well as their revenge. The bargain is made, and Joseph, from the captivity of the pit, is sent as a slave into AEgypt. Learn, (1.) How exactly God makes common events of his Providence become critical, for purposes of his glory. (2.) God overrules wicked men, and makes one sin a bridle to a greater: covetousness saves from bloodshed. Reuben was not of the council; and on his return to the pit, how great his grief to find Joseph gone! Note; The disappointments of our well-meant endeavours are afterwards seen to be in mercy.

Verse 32

Genesis 37:32. They sent—and they brought, &c.— i.e.. The brethren sent the coat by messengers to their father, which messengers brought it to Jacob.

Verse 35

Genesis 37:35. All his sons and all his daughters, &c.— Though Jacob had but one daughter of his own, yet, as his sons were married, all his daughters may well be supposed to include his daughters-in-law. They rose up to comfort him, does not imply any information from them of Joseph's being alive: the contrary is to be evidently inferred from Jacob's refusing to be comforted, and saying, I will go down into the grave unto my son, mourning; i.e.. I will continue to mourn till I go to that mansion of departed souls, that region of the dead, where my son is; see ch. Genesis 25:8. Isaiah 14:19-20. Ezekiel 32:21.Job 3:17; Job 3:17.

Verse 36

Genesis 37:36. An officer of Pharaoh's Pharaoh, as we have before observed, was the common name of the kings of AEgypt. The person here mentioned is said to have been captain of the guards שׂראּהטבחים Sar-hatabachim, chief of the slaughter-men or executioners, or captain of the guards; for princes anciently used not to have any other executioners than their own guards. Thus we find, as late as the time of Herod the tetrarch, that he sent σπεκουλατωρα, speculatorem, one of his guard, to behead John the Baptist, Mark 6:27. (margin of our English Bibles), Genesis 40:3. 2 Kings 8:10-11; Daniel 2:14.—Herodotus, lib. ii. 164 tells us, that of all the seven classes into which the AEgyptians were divided, the most noble, next to the priests, was that of the soldiers, who were sometimes 400,000 in number. This class was subdivided into two, out of whom 1000 were chosen yearly to serve for the king's guards, each in his turn. If this regulation was so old as the patriarchal age, the chief commander of these 1000 was, probably, the officer here designated as the captain of the guard. See Le Clerc.

REFLECTIONS.—The sons of Jacob made a plausible story: there was little or no room for suspicion; while the coat they sent indulged their revenge and aggravated Jacob's sorrow. A thousand dire imaginations now rush in, and tear his heart with greater violence than the beast could the limbs of his supposed devoured Joseph. His sons pretend to comfort him; but, inconsolable in his sorrows, his heart refuses consolation, and he resolves to go down mourning to his grave. Note; 1. Immoderate love is generally punished with immoderate grief. I never observe the doating affection of a parent, but I tremble for the idol child. 2. Obstinate sorrow is very sinful, as it reflects on God's goodness. 3. Many of our bitterest griefs have no more reality for their foundation than Jacob's. Joseph still lives, though a bondman in AEgypt, in the house of Potiphar; and, disagreeable as his lot is, he blesses God it is no worse. Note; It is good to remember how much worse it might have been with us, as a means to reconcile us to every trial.

In this whole chapter, we have in Joseph a type of the Beloved Son of God, sent of his Father, rejected of his brethren, and sold by another Judas.

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Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Genesis 37". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tcc/genesis-37.html. 1801-1803.