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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 37

The Pulpit CommentariesThe Pulpit Commentaries

Verse 1

§ 10. THE GENERATIONS OF ESAU (CH. 36:1-37:1).


Genesis 36:1

Now these are the generations (cf. Genesis 2:4; Genesis 5:1, &c.) of Esau,—Hairy (vide Genesis 25:25)—which is Edom—Red (vide Genesis 25:30).

Genesis 36:2, Genesis 36:3

Esau took his wives of the daughters of Canaan;—i.e. who were of the daughters of Canaan (vide Genesis 26:34)—Adah—"Ornament," "Beauty" (Gesenius); the name also of one of Lamech's wives (cf. Genesis 4:19)—the daughter of Elon—"Oak" (Gesenius)—the Hittite, and Aholibamah—"Tent of the High Place" (Gesenius)—the daughter of Anah—"Answering" (Gesenius)—the daughteri.e. the grand-daughter, though, after the LXX. and the Samaritan, some read the son, as in Genesis 36:24 (Gesenius, Kalisch, Furst, et alii)of Zibeon—"Colored" (Gesenius); "Wild," "Robber" (Furst)—the Hivite; and Bashemath—"Sweet-smelling" (Gesenius)—Ishmael's daughter, sister of Nebajoth—"High Place" (Gesenius). The difference between this account and that previously given (Genesis 26:34; Genesis 28:9) will appear at a glance by setting the two lists of wives in parallel columns:—

1. Judith, daughter of Beeri the Hittite.

1. Aholibamah, daughter of Anah, daughter of Zibeon the Hivite.

2. Bashemath, daughter of Elon the Hittite.

2. Adah, daughter of Elon the Hittite.

3. Mahalath, daughter of Ishmael, sister of Nebajoth.

3. Bashemath, Ishmael's daughter, sister of Nebajoth.

The two lists agree in saying

(1) that Esau had three wives,

(2) that one of them was the daughter of Elon the Hittite,

(3) that another of them was Ishmael's daughter, the sister of Nebajoth, and

(4) that the name of one of them was Bashemath.

The discrepancy between the two is greatest in respect of the first wife, who appears with a different name and a different parentage in the two lists; while with reference to the second and the third wives, it is only the difference of name that requires to be accounted for. Now since the two lists belong to the so-called Elohistic document (Tuch, Bleak, Stahelin, Davidson, et alii), the hypothesis must be discarded "that the Hebrew text, though containing several important coincidences, evidently embodies two accounts irreconcilably different" (Kalisch)—a conclusion which can only be maintained by ascribing to the author the most absolute literary incompetence. Equally the conjecture must be set aside that the two lists refer to different persons, the second three being names of wives which Esau took on the decease of the first. The solutions that appear most entitled to acceptance, though all are more or less conjectural, proceed upon the supposition that Esau had only three wives, or at most four.

1. On the hypothesis that Esau had not more than three wives, it is only needful to presume that each of them had two names, a not unusual circumstance in Oriental countries (Rosenmüller, Havernick)—one of them, probably that contained in the present list, bestowed on the occasion of marriage; and that Anah, the father of Aholibamah, was the same person with Beeri, or the Well-Man, who received that cognomen from the incident related in verse 24, viz; that he discovered certain hot springs while feeding his father's asses (Hengstenberg, Keil, Kurtz)—the peculiarity that in one place (Genesis 26:34) he is styled a Hittite, in another (Genesis 36:2) a Hivite, and in a third (Genesis 36:20) a Horite, being explained by the conjecture that the first was the generic term for the race, the second the specific designation of the tribe, and the third the particular name for the inhabitants of the district to which he belonged (Keil, Lange, 'Speaker's Commentary).

2. Another solution gives to Esau four wives, by supposing Judith to have died without issue (Murphy, Jacobus), or, in consequence of being childless, though still living, to have been passed over in silence in the former genealogical register (Quarry), and Aholibamah to have been the fourth partner whom Esau espoused. The Samaritan version reads Mahalath for Bashemath in the second list, which it regards as an error of transcription (W. L. Alexander in Kitto's ' Cyclopedia'); while others think that Adah has been written by inadvertence for Bashemath (Inglis)'; but such conjectures are as unnecessary as they are manifestly arbitrary.

Genesis 36:4, Genesis 36:5

And Adah bare to Esau Eliphas;—"The Strength of God" (Gesenius); afterwards the name of one of Job's friends (Job 2:11; Job 4:1; Job 15:1)—and Bashemath bare Reuel;—"The Friend of God" (Gesenius); the name of Moses' father-in-law (Exodus 2:18)—and Aholibamah bare Jeush,—"Collector" (Furst, Lange); "whom God hastens" (Gesenius); afterwards the name of a son of Rehoboam (2 Chronicles 11:19)—and Jaalam,—"whom God hides" (Gesenius); "Ascender of the Mountains" (Furst)—and Korah:"Baldness" (Furst, Gesenius); the name of a family of Levites and singers in the time of David to whom ten of the psalms are ascribed—these are the sons of Esau, which wore born unto him in the land of Canaan—not necessarily implying' that other sons were born to him in Edom, but rather intimating that all his family were born before he left the Holy Land.

Genesis 36:6

And Esau took his wives, and his sons, and his daughters, and all the persons (literally, souls) of his house, and his cattle (mikneh), and all his beasts (behemah), and all his substance (literally, all his acquisitions), which he had got in the land of Canaan; and went into the country—literally, into a land; not ἐκ τῆς γῆς (LXX.), or in alteram regionem (Vulgate), but either into the land, so. of Seir (Keil), or, taking the next as a qualifying clause, into a land apart (Murphy, Lange)—from the face of—or, on account of (Rosenmüller, Kalisch)—his brother Jacob.

Genesis 36:7

For their riches were more than that they might dwell together; and the land wherein they were strangers—literally, of their wanderings (cf. Genesis 28:4; Genesis 37:1)—could not bear them because of their cattle. This does not necessarily imply that Jacob was established in Canaan before Esau removed. Esau may have recognized the impossibility of two so rich and powerful chieftains as himself and his brother occupying Canaan, and may have retired Before Jacob actually took possession (Keil, Inglis).

Genesis 36:8

Thus dwelt Esau in mount Seir (Genesis 32:3; Deuteronomy 2:5; Joshua 24:4): Esau is Edom (vide Genesis 25:30). The obvious continuation of this verse m to be found in Genesis 37:1, so that Gen 37:9 -40 are parenthetical in their character; but whether originally written by Moses, or inserted by a late redactor, as some maintain, may legitimately be regarded as an open question.

Genesis 36:9

And these are the generations of Esau—"the repetition of this clause shows that it does not necessarily indicate diversity of authorship, or a very distinct piece of composition" (Murphy)—the father of the Edomites (i.e. the founder of the Edomitish nation) in mount Seir.

Genesis 36:10-12

These are the names of Esau's sons; Eliphaz the son of Adah the wife of Esau, Reuel the son of Bashemath the wife of Esau (vide Genesis 36:4). And the sons of Eliphaz were Teman,—the name was afterwards given to a district of Idumea (Jeremiah 49:20), and borne by one of Job's friends (Job 2:11)—Omar,—"Eloquent" (Gesenius), "Mountain-dweller" (Furst)—Zepho,—"Watch-tower" (Gesenius); called Zephi in 1 Chronicles 1:36and Gatam,—"their touch" (Gesenius), "dried up" (Furst)—and Kenaz—"Hunting" (Gesenius). And Timna—"Restraint" (Gesenius, Furst, Murphy)—was concubinepilgash, (vide Genesis 16:3; Genesis 25:6)—to Eliphaz Esau's son; perhaps given to him by Adah, so that her children were reckoned Adah's (Hughes) and she bare to Eliphaz Amalek—"Inhabitant of the Valley," or "Warrior" (Furst); "a nation of head-breakers" (Lunge); "Laboring" (Gesenius, Murphy). It is probable that this was the founder of the Amalekite nation who attacked Israel at Horeb (Keil, Kalisch, Murphy), though by others (Gesenius, Michaelis, Furst) these have been regarded as a primitive people, chiefly on the grounds that Amalek is mentioned in Genesis 14:7 as having existed in the days of Abraham, and that Balaam calls Amalek the first of nations (Numbers 24:20); but the first may simply be a prolepsis (Hengstenberg), while the second alludes not to the antiquity of the nation, but either to its power (Kalisch), or to the circumstance that it was the first heathen tribe to attack Israel (Keil). These (including Eliphaz for the reason ,specified above) were the sons of Adah Esau's wife.

Genesis 36:13

And these are the sons of Reuel; Nahath,—Nachath, "Going down"—and Zerah,—or Zerach, "Rising"—Shammah,—Wasting (Gesenius, Murphy); "Fame, "Renown" (Furst)—and Mizzah:—"Trepidation" (Gesenius); "Fear," "Sprinkling" (Murphy); if from mazaz, "Fear, if from nazah, "Joy" (Furst)—these were the sons of Bashemath Esau's wife.

Genesis 36:14

And these were the sons of Aholibamah, the daughter of Allah the daughter of Zibeon, Esau's wife (vide Genesis 36:2): and she bare to Esau Jeush, and Jaalam, and Korah (vide Genesis 36:5).

Genesis 36:15, Genesis 36:16

These were dukes of the sons of Esau. The אַלּוּפים, derived probably from אָלַף, to be familiar, whence to join together, or associate, were Edomite and Horite phylarchs or tribe-leaders, ἡγεμόνες, (LXX.), chieftains of a thousand men (Gerlach). At a later period the term came to be applied to the Jewish chiefs or governors of the Restoration (Zechariah 9:7; Zechariah 12:5). The sons of Eliphaz the firstborn son of Esau; duke Teman, duke Omar, duke Zepho, duke Kemaz (vide on Genesis 36:11), duke Korah,—inserted here probably by clerical error from Genesis 36:18 (Kennicott, Tuch, Knobel, Delitzsch, Keil, Murphy, Quarry), and accordingly omitted in the Samaritan Pentateuch and Version, though still retained by Onkelos and the LXX; and on the hypothesis of its genuineness explained by some as the name of a nephew of Eliphaz (Junius); of a son by another mother (Ainsworth); of a son of Korah (Genesis 36:18) by the widow of Timua (1 Chronicles 1:36), who, having died without issue, left his wife to his brother (Michaelis); of some descendant of Eliphaz by intermarriage who subsequently rose to be the head of a clan (Kalisch),—duke Gatam (vide Genesis 36:11), and duke Amalek (vide Genesis 36:12): these are the dukes that came of Eliphaz in the land of Edom; these were the sons of Adah.

Genesis 36:17

And these are the sons of Reuel Esau's son; duke Nahath, duke Zerah, duke Shammah, duke Minah: these are the dukes that came of Reuel in the land of Edom; these are the sons of Bashemath Esau's wife (vide on Genesis 36:13).

Genesis 36:18

And these are the sons of Aholi-bamah Esau's wife; duke Jeush, duke Jaalam, duke Korah: these were the dukes that came of Aholibamah the daughter of Allah, Esau's wife. In the two previous instances it is the grandsons of Esau that become the alluphim or heads of tribes, while in this it is the sons, which Havernick regards as a mark of authenticity (vide 'Introd.,' § 20).

Genesis 36:19

These are the sons of Esau, who is Edom, and these are their dukes.

Genesis 36:20, Genesis 36:21

These are the sons of Seir the Horite, who inhabited the land. The primitive inhabitants of Idumea were Horites (vide Genesis 14:6), of whom the ancestor, Seir ("Rugged"), either gave his name to, or took his name from, the district in which he lived. Though ultimately driven out by the Edomites (Deuteronomy 2:12), they were probably only gradually dispossessed, and not until a portion of them had coalesced with their conquerors, as Esau himself had a Horite wife, Aholibamah, and his son Eliphaz a Horite concubine of the name of Thuna. They were, as the name Horite, from chor, a hole or cavern, imports a race of troglodytes or cavemen, who dwelt in the sandstone and limestone eaves with which the land of Edom abounds. The cave palaces, temples, and tombs that have been excavated in Mount Seir are still astonishing in their grandeur. Lotan,—"Wrapping up" (Gesenius)—and Shobal,—"Flowing" (Gesenius)—and Zibeon, and Anah (this Anah was the uncle of the Anah mentioned in Genesis 36:25), and Dishan,—"Gazelle" (Gesenius, Furst)—and Eser,—"Treasure" (Gesenius)—and Dishan:—same as Dishon (Gesenius, Furst); "Threshing" (Murphy)—these are the dukes of, the Horites, the children of Seir in the land of Edom.

Genesis 36:22

And the children of Lotan were Hori—the name of the tribe (Genesis 36:20)—and Hemam:—or, Homam (1 Chronicles 1:39); "Destruction" (Gesenius), "Commotion" (Furst, Murphy)—and Lotan's sister was Timna—probably the concubine of Eliphaz (Genesis 36:12).

Genesis 36:23

And the children of Shobal were these; Alvan,—or Alian (1 Chronicles 1:40); "Unjust" (Gesenius), "Lofty" (Furst, Murphy)—and Manahath,—"Rest" (Gesenius)—and Ebal,—"Stripped of leaves" (Gesenius, Murphy); "Bare Mountain" (Furst)—Shepho,—or Shephi (1 Chronicles 1:40);" Nakedness" (Gesenius)—and Onam—"Strong" (Gesenius).

Genesis 36:24

And these are the children of Zibeon; both Ajah,—"Screamer" (Gesenius)—and Anah:—the father-in-law of Esau (Genesis 36:2)—this was that Anah that found the mules in the wilderness,—neither invented the procreation of mules (Aben Ezra, Kimchi, Luther, Calvin, Willet, Clarke, Ainsworth, &c.), since מָעַא does not signify to invent, but to light upon or discover (Keil), and there were no horses at that time in those regions (Michaelis), and it is not said that Anah was feeding his father's horses and asses, but only asses (Rosenmüller); nor overcame the giants (Onkelos, Samaritan, Bochart),which would have required אימים (Genesis 14:5; Deuteronomy 2:11); nor found out salt water (Oleaster, Percrius), a useful herb (Mais), or Ἰαμεὶν as a proper name (LXX.); but discovered the warm springs, the ἅπαξ λεγόμενον, יֵמִים, being now generally taken to mean aquce callidae (Vulgate, Dathius, Gesenius, Rosenmüller, Hengstenberg, Keil, Kalisch, Murphy), of which there were venous in the vicinity, as, e.g; the springs of Callirrhoe in the Wady Zerka Maein, and those, in the Wady-el-Ahsa to the south-east of the Dead Sea, and those in the Wady Hamad between Kerek and the Dead Sea—as he fed (literally, in his feeding) the asses of Zibeon his father. "The whirlpool of Karlsbad is said to have been discovered through a hound of Charles IV. which pursued a stag into a hot spring, and attracted the huntsmen to the spot by its howling" (Keil in loco; cf. Tacitus, 'Hist,,' Genesis 5:3).

Genesis 36:25

And the children of Anah—the brother of Zibeon (Genesis 36:20)—were these; Dishon,—named after his uncle (Genesis 36:21) and Aholibamah the daughter of Anah. This Aholibamah was not Esau's wife, but the cousin of Esau's wife's father.

Genesis 36:26

And these are the children of Dishon;—the son of Seir (Genesis 36:21)—Hemdan,—or Amrara (1 Citron. 1.41); "Pleasant" (Gesenius)—and Eshban,—or Heshbon; "Reason," "Understanding" (Gesenius); "Intelligent," "Hero" (Furst)—and Ithran,—the same as Jethro and Jithron; "the Superior or Excellent One" (Gesenius, Furst, Murphy, Lange)—and Cheran—"Harp" (Gesenius), "Companion" (Furst).

Genesis 36:27

The children of Ezer are these; Bilhan,—"Modest" (Gesenius), "Tender" (Furst)—and Zaavan,—"Disturbed "(Gesenius)—and Akan—Jakan (1 Chronicles 1:42); "Twisting" (Gesenius, Murphy).

Genesis 36:28

The children of Dishan are these; Uz,—"Sandy" (Gesenius, Furst)—and Aran—"Wild Goat" (Gesenius); "Power," "Strength" (Furst).

Genesis 36:29, Genesis 36:30

These are the dukes that came of the Horites; duke Lotan, duke Shobal, duke Zibeon, duke Anah, duke Dishon, duke Eser, duke Dishan: these are the dukes that came of Hori, among (rather, according to) their dukes in the land of Seir.

Genesis 36:31

And these (which follow) are the kings that reigned in the land of Edom, before there reigned any (literally, before the reigning of a) king over (or, to) the children of Israel.

1. The reference to Israelitish kings in this place has been explained as an evidence of post-Mosaic authorship (Le Clerc, Bleek, Ewald, Bohlen, et alii), or at least as a later interpolation from 1 Chronicles 1:43 (Kennicott, A. Clarke, Lange), but is sufficiently accounted for by remembering that in Genesis 35:11 kings had been promised to Jacob, while the blessing pronounced on Esau (Genesis 27:40) implied that in his line also should arise governors, the historian being understood to say that though the promised kings had not yet arisen in the line of Jacob, the house of Esau had attained at a somewhat early period to political importance (Calvin, Michaelis, Rosenmüller, Keil, Kalisch, Gerlach, Havernick, and others).

2. The difficulty of finding room for the dukes (seven, four and three, all grandsons of Esau, Genesis 35:15-19), the kings (eight in number, verses 32-39), and again the dukes (in all eleven, verses 40-43), that intervened between Esau and Moses disappears if the kings and dukes existed contemporaneously, of which Exodus 15:15, as compared with Numbers 20:14, affords probable evidence.

3. As to the character of the Edomitish kings, it is apparent that it was not a hereditary monarchy, since in no case does the son succeed the father, but an elective sovereignty, the kings being chosen by the dukes, alluphim, or phylarchs (Keil, Hengstenberg, Kalisch, Gerlach), though the idea of successive usurpations (Lange) is not without a measure of probability.

Genesis 36:32

And Bela the son of Beor (cf. Genesis 14:2, where Bela is the name for Zoar; and Numbers 22:5, where Balaam's father is called Beer, whence the LXX. has here Βαλὸκ) reigned in Edom (as the first sore-reign): and the name of his city was Dinha-bah—"Concealment," or "Little Place" (Furst); a place of plunder (Gesenius), the situation of which has not been identified.

Genesis 36:33

And Bela died, and Jobab—probably meaning "Desert," or "Shout" (Gesenius); identified with Job—an opinion which Michaelis declares to be insinis error, nec, historicus solum, sed et grammaticus, Jobab being derived from the root יָבַב; the name of a region of the Joktanite Arabs (Genesis 10:29)—the son of Zerah of Bozrah—"Fort" (Gesenius); afterwards an important city of the Edomites (Isaiah 34:6; Isaiah 63:1; Jeremiah 49:13); still to be traced in El-Busaireh, a village and castle in Arabia Petraea, about twenty-five miles south by east of the Dead Sea—reigned in his stead—literally, under him, i.e. in succession to him.

Genesis 36:34

And Jobab died, and HushamHushai; "Haste" (Gesenius)—of the land of Temani (a province in Northern Idumea, with a city Teman which has not yet been discovered) reigned in his stead.

Genesis 36:35

And Husham died, and Hadad—"Shouting," e.g. for joy (Gesenius); whence "Conqueror" (Furst)—the son of Bedad,—"Separation" (Gesenius)—who smote Midian (vide Genesis 25:2) in the field of Moab (vide Genesis 19:37), reigned in his stead: and the name of his city was Avith—"Ruins" (Gesenius), "Twisting" (Murphy), "Hut-Village" (Furst). An attempt has been made (Bohlen) to identify this monarch with the Edomite of the same name who rose against Solomon (1 Kings 11:14); but

(1) this Hadad was not of royal blood, while Solomon's contemporary was;

(2) this Hadad was a king, while Solomon's adversary was only a pretender;

(3) this Hadad was a conqueror of the Midianites, while in Solomon's time the Midianites had vanished from history; and

(4) this Hadad lived and reigned before Israel had any kings (vide Hengstenberg, 'On the Genuineness of the Pentateuch,' vol. 2. dissert. 6; and cf. Havernick's 'Introd.,' § 20, and Keil in loco).

Genesis 36:36

And Hadad died, and Samlah—"Covering," "Garment," (Gesenius, Furst, Murphy)—of Masrekah—"Vineyard" (Gesenius)—reigned in his stead.

Genesis 36:37

And Samlah died, and Saul "Asked" (Gesenius)—of Rehoboth by the river—Rehoboth (literally, wide spaces) of the River is so called to distinguish it from the Asshurite settlement of the same name in Genesis 10:11 (Rosenmüller), though by some it is identified with Rehoboth Ir (Ainsworth). If the river spoken of be the Euphrates (Onkelos, Keil, Kalisch), then it is probably to be sought for in the Errachabi or Rachabeh near the mouth of the Chaboras (Keil), though the river may be some small nahar in Idumea (Lange), in which case the site will be uncertain—reigned in his stead.

Genesis 36:38

And Saul died, and Baal-hanan—"Lord of Benignity" (Gesenius)—the son of Achbor—"Mouse" (Gesenius)—reigned in his stead.

Genesis 36:39

And Baal-hanan the son of Achbor died, and Hadar—Hadad (1 Chronicles 1:50)—reigned in his stead: and the name of his city was Pau;—Pal (1 Chronicles 1:50); "Bleating" (Gesenius), "Yawning" (Furst), with which accords Φογώρ (LXX.)—and his wife's name was Mehetabel,—"Whom God benefits" (Gesenius)—the daughter of Marred,—"Pushing" (Gesenius)—the daughter of Mezahab—"Water of Gold" (Gesenius). That the death of this king, which a later chronicler records (1 Chronicles 1:51), is not here mentioned by the historian is commonly regarded (Rosenmüller, Havernick, Hengstenberg, Keil, Kalisch, et alii) as a proof that he was then alive, and that in fact he was the king of Edom to whom Moses sent ambassadors requesting permission to pass through the land (Numbers 20:14).

Genesis 36:40-43

And these are the names of the dukes that came of Esau, according to their families, after their places, by their names. It is now generally agreed that this and the ensuing verses contain not a second list of dukes who rose to power on the overthrow of the preceding monarchical institutions (Bertheau, Ainsworth, Patrick), or a continuation of the preceding list of dukes, which had simply been interrupted by a parenthesis about the kings (Bush); but either an enumeration of the hereditary phylarchs who were contemporaneous with Hadar, and in all probability formed, his council (Murphy), or a territorial catalogue of the districts in which the original alluphim who sprang from Esau (Genesis 36:15-19) exercised their sovereignty (Keil, Kalisch, Lange, 'Speaker's Commentary'). Duke Timnah,—according to the explanation just given this should perhaps be read duke of Timnah = Amalek, whose mother was Timna (Lange), but this is conjectural—duke Alvah,—or of Alvah, or Allah, closely allied to Alvan (Genesis 36:23)—duke (of) Jetheth,—"Nail" (Gesenius), "Subjugation" (Furst)—duke (of) Aholiba-mah,—vide Genesis 36:2; perhaps Esau's wife as well as Eliphaz's concubine gave her name to the district over which her son ruled—duke Elah,—"Strength" (Furst), "Tere-binth" (Murphy)—duke Pinon,—probably equal to Pimon, dark (Gesenius)—duke Kenaz (vide Genesis 36:11), duke Teman (Genesis 36:15), duke Mibzar,—"Fortress," "Strong City" (Gesenius)—duke Magdiel,—"Prince of God" (Gesenius)—duke Iram:"Citizen" (Gesenius)—these be the dukes of Edom, according to their habitations (i.e. their capitals, or districts) in the land of their possessions. The word seems to indicate an independent sovereignty within their respective provinces or principalities. He is Esau the father of the Edomites. The clause is equivalent to saying, This Esau (already referred to) was the ancestor of these Edomites.

Genesis 37:1


Genesis 37:1

And Jacob dwelt in the land wherein his father was a stranger (literally, in the land of the sojourning,'s of his father), in the land of Canaan. This verse is not the commencement of the ensuing (Keil, Kalisch, Lange, &c.), but the concluding sentence of the present, section, the adversative particle ו, corresponding to the δε of the LXX; introducing a contrast between Esau, who dwelt in Mount Seir, and Jacob, who dwelt in the land of Canaan, and the following verse beginning the next division of the book with the customary formula, "These are the generations". Rosenmüller less happily connects the present verse with Genesis 35:29; the Vulgate begins the next section with Genesis 35:3. A similar division of verses to that proposed will be found in Genesis 25:11.


Genesis 37:1

The last of the house of Esau.


1. A complete removal. "Esau took his wives, and his sons, and his daughters, and all the persons of his house, and his cattle, and all his beasts, and all his substance, which he had got in the land of Canaan; and went into a land apart from the face of his brother."

2. A necessary removal. Two things rendered the withdrawal of Esau from Canaan imperative—

(1) that which was patent to Esau's sense, viz; that the land of Canaan was too strait to afford accommodation to two so powerful chieftains as his brother and himself; and

(2) that which appears to have been accepted by Esau's faith, viz; that the decision of Divine providence was against him, and that the land belonged to Jacob. Hence for this twofold reason his retirement from Canaan is said to have taken place on account of his brother.

3. A peaceful removal. Though in one sense compulsory, in another aspect of it Esau's departure was voluntary. Instead of disputing possession of the land with his brother, which, humanly speaking, he might have done with some considerable hope of success, he quietly ceded what perhaps he saw he could not ultimately retain. Still it was to his credit that, instead of wrangling with Jacob about its present occupation, he peacefully withdrew to the wild mountain region of Seir. A permanent removal. Esau established his settlements altogether outside the limits of the Holy Land, and never again appeared as a claimant for its possession, leaving it finally in the free and undisputed ownership of Jacob. Hence, while it is said that "Esau dwelt in Mount Seir," it is appropriately added by the historian, in concluding the present section, "And Jacob dwelt in the land wherein his father was a stranger, in the land of Canaan."


1. A numerous race. Though Esau's sons were not so many as those of Jacob, yet his descendants developed into a people much more rapidly than did those of Jacob. This may have been partly due to the circumstance that they were—

2. A mixed race, having obviously incorporated amongst themselves a portion at least of the original Horites, whose land they appropriated, and whose political life they appear to have adopted. Then it is apparent that they were—

3. An aristocratic race. At the time of their invasion by the Esahites, the cave-dwellers of Mount Seir had attained to something like a settled government by means of alluphim, phylarchs, or tribe princes, each of whom enjoyed a sort of independent sovereignty; and, as has often happened since, though obliged to retire before the more powerful Canaanitish tribe, they succeeded in imposing on their conquerors their own political institutions. No fewer than fourteen of Esau's grandsons became reigning dukes in the country. Still further, it may be inferred that they were—

4. A progressive race. The impulse towards a national life thus communicated by the Seirites does not appear to have exhausted itself by simply the formation of small independent principalities, which, as civilization advances, are always felt to be a source of weakness rather than strength to the country whose social and political unity is thus broken up, and which eventually call for the reverse process of a unification of the different fragments, whether by free confederation or by imperial subordination. In the case of the Edomites the phylarchs were succeeded by kings, whether elective monarchs or foreign usurpers cannot be determined, though the preponderance of sentiment among interpreters is in favor of the former hypothesis. And then, finally, they were—

5. An exiled race; that is to say, though sprung from the soil of Canaan, they developed outside its limits-Jacob's family alone, as the Heaven-appointed heirs, remaining within the borders of the Holy Land.


1. That God is able to bring about his purposes in peaceful ways when he so desireth.

2. That natural men often exemplify great virtues in their conduct.

3. That abundance of wealth is frequently a cause of separation among friends.

4. That political greatness is much more easily attained, by nations as well as individuals, than spiritual pre-eminence.

5. That a nation's advancement in civilization is no certain guarantee of its continuance.

6. That in nature, as well as grace, the first is often last, and the last first.

7. That the heirs of the covenant are certain in the long run to obtain the inheritance.


Genesis 37:8

Esau separates from Jacob.

I. GOD REQUIRES ENTIRE DEVOTEDNESS AND FAITH. Edom is allied to the true kingdom, but is not one with it. We may keep in mind the relationship between the descendants of the two brothers, that we may learn the more clearly to distinguish the true heirs of the blessing.

II. THE TRUE BELIEVERS SET APART BY SPECIAL GRACE. The rest of the Book of Genesis follows the course of the one family in whose midst the ark of the covenant, as it were, was already resting, where was

(1) the revelation of God and

(2) the special manifestation of his favor, and out of which should come forth

(3) the people among the peoples, the kingdom among the kingdoms, the Goshen in the Egypt, the seed of life in the world of death.—R.

Genesis 37:31

Delay in fulfillment of God's promises.

Between two stages of the history of the covenant family stands the genealogy of Esau's descendants. The text suggests a contrast between their course and that of the family of Jacob. On the death of Isaac Esau departed from Canaan with family and possessions (cf. Genesis 27:40). The desert and the valleys of Seir were more attractive than quietness of Canaan. Prosperity, such as he cared for, attended him. Among his family we read of dukes, or heads of tribes, and of kings. And what of the line of promise?—kings foretold to them (Genesis 17:6; Genesis 35:11). Yet while kings were reigning in Edom, Israelites were slaves in Egypt or wanderers in the desert. Is God slack to fulfill his word? (1 Peter 3:4). This is often a trial to believers (Psalms 73:3). But God's promises are sure, though the time may seem long. The fulfillment of promises of great blessings has almost always been slow, as we count it. Abraham waited long (Genesis 12:2). It was long ere the kingdom of Israel arose; far longer ere the promise of a Savior fulfilled (Genesis 3:15; Galatians 4:4); and still we wait for the Lord's return. The same truth appears in nature. Great and precious things are of slow growth.

Doctrinal lessons:

1. Delay serves for the trial and strengthening of faith. Faith grows by enduring trial. Mark how often the faith of eminent saints has been tried. Without faith we cannot please God; for faith believes God's truth and love, and embraces his will. Unbelief charges God with untruth (Genesis 3:4; 1 John 5:10). Even in believers a leaven of unbelief may be at work. Trials are sent to cause faith to develop into other graces (James 1:3).

2. What springs up quietly is apt to fade quickly (cf. Exodus 3:11 with Haggai 1:2). Danger lest what seems to be faith be merely feeling.

3. The time that seems so long is not mere delay, but preparation. While the seed lies in the earth a process is going on, though unseen, without which the perfect plant could not be formed. Compare the expression, "the fullness of time" (Galatians 4:4), and the way in which all previous history prepared the way for the coming of Christ. These lessons apply equally to God's dealings with the world and with individuals.

Practical lessons:

1. Encouragement if disheartened by slow progress of Christ's kingdom: much labor among the heathen with little apparent result; or many efforts at home, yet ungodliness not checked. We have promises (Isaiah 55:11; 1 Corinthians 15:58). In his own time God will make them good.

2. In like manner if our own striving for personal holiness, or for good of others, seems to have little success. We require the training of disappointment to check pride (2 Corinthians 12:7), and God will see to the result (Galatians 6:9).

3. To bear in mind that we are but instruments in the Lord's hand (1 Corinthians 3:6). Every work to be performed "looking unto Jesus" (2 Corinthians 12:10).—M.

Verses 2-11

§ 11. THE GENERATIONS OF JACOB (Genesis 37:2-26Genesis 37:2-26).


1. HAVING disposed, in the preceding section, of the line of Esau by a brief sketch of its historical development during the two and a half centuries intervening between the founding of the Edomite empire by Esau's withdrawing to Mount Seir, and the days of Moses, the narrative reverts to the fortunes of the house of Jacob, the story of which, after having suffered a temporary interruption, it likewise carries forward to the same point of rest, viz; to the period of the sojourn in Egypt. Commencing with a glance at the inner family life of the patriarch at Mature in the vale of Hebron, where, on returning from Padanaram, he had finally established himself beside his aged and bedridden father Isaac, it recites the tragic incidents connected with the sale of Joseph by his brethren, after which, first rehearsing the further wickedness of Jacob's sons in the matter of Tamar, it pursues his eventful career from the moment of his entering Egypt as a Slave in the household of Potiphar to the time when, arrayed in fine linen and decorated with a golden necklace, he rode in the second state chariot as Pharaoh's prime minister and ruler over all the land. Then, detailing the various circumstances arising from the famine which led to his discovery of his brethren, it ends by describing the descent of Jacob and his sons into Egypt and their settlement in Goshen, the death of Jacob after delivering his last prophetic blessing to his sons, and finally the decease of Joseph himself at the age of 110 years, when, as we learn from the subsequent narrative in Exodus, having lost their protector at the Court, and a dynastic change having taken place upon the throne, of Pharaoh, the sons of Israel gradually sank into oppressive and exhausting bondage.

2. By those who repudiate the Mosaic authorship of Genesis the present section is variously distributed among the alleged candidates for the honor of its composition. Beyond the ascription of Genesis 38:1-30; to the Jehovist, there is the most complete absence of unanimity among partitionists as to whom the different portions are to be assigned. Genesis 37:2-36, which Tuch declares to be the work of the Elohist, Bleek affirms to have been tampered with by the Jehovist, while Davidson divides it between a younger Elohist, the Jehovist, and a subsequent redactor. Genesis 39:1-23, is, according to Davidson, almost exclusively the composition of the Jehovist; while, according to Bleek, it has proceeded nearly entire from the pen of the Elohist, and Tuch divides it pretty evenly between the two. Tuch again thinks that Genesis 40-50, have been supplied by the fundamental document, and Bleek recognizes alterations by the hand of the supplementer; but Davidson apportions most of them to the Jehovist, giving the fragments that remain to the younger Elohist and the late redactor. The insufficient character of the grounds on which such assignments are made will be noted in the opposition; in the mean time the ,remark is pertinent that their very diversity is one of the strongest indirect proofs of the Mosaic authorship of the entire composition.

Genesis 37:2

These are the generations of Jacob. The opening of a new section (cf. Genesis 2:4; Genesis 5:1 &c.). Joseph, the son of Rachel, and born in Padan-aram (Genesis 30:24)—being seventeen years old,—literally, a son of seventeen years, thus making Jacob 108—was feeding the flock with his brethren;—literally, was shepherding; not his brethren (Bush), but with his brethren, in, or among, the flock—and the lad was—literally, and he a lad, aetate, moribus et innocentia (Lyra), non tantum aetate sed et ministerio (Poole), but most probably designed simply as a note of his age. Pererius, following the Vulgate, connects the clause with what precedes; Calvin, Dathius, Lange, Murphy, Kalisch, and others conjoin it with the words that follow; the LXX; Willet, Rosenmüller, Keil, Ainsworth, Bush, &c. regard it as a parenthetical statement—with—not in the capacity of a servant (Vatablus) or of a ward (Kalisch), but of a companion—the sons of Bilhah, and with the sons of Zilpah, his father's wives. With these rather than the sons of Leah, as being less supercilious and haughty than the children of the first wife (Lawson), or as being less opposed to him than they (Lange), or more probably as being nearer to his own age than they (Keil), or perhaps as having been brought more into contact with the handmaids' children, and in particular with those of Bilhah, Rachel's maid, who may have been to him as a mother after Rachel's death (Rosenmüller). And Joseph brought unto his (rather, their) father their evil report. Not accusavit fratres suos apud patrem crimine pessimo (Vulgate), or κατὴνεγκαν ψόλον πονηρὸν προς Ισραὴλ τὸν πατέρα αὐτῶν (LXX.), as if Joseph drew down upon himself their calumnious reports, but carried to his father an evil report concerning them (Kalisch); not informed him of what he himself saw of their evil deeds (Lawson), though this need not be excluded, but repeated the דִּבָּה, or fama, always of a bad character (Rosenmüller), which was circulating in the district respecting them—tunics rumores qui subinde de iis spargebantur (Dathius);—the noun being derived from an onomatopoetic root, דָּבַב, signifying to go slowly, or to creep about.

Genesis 37:3

Now (literally, and) Israel loved Joseph more than all his children (literally, sons), because he was the son of his old age—literally, a son of old age (was) he to him; not a son possessing the wisdom of advanced years (Onkelos), but a son born in his old age (Rosenmüller, Keil, Kalisch, et alii), which was literally true of Joseph, since he was born in his father's ninety-first year. Yet as Joseph was only a year or two younger than the children of Bilhah and Zilpah, and as Benjamin was still later born than he, the application of this epithet to Joseph has been explained on the ground that Benjamin was at this time little more than a child (Keil), and had not much come into notice (Murphy), or perhaps was not born when this portion of the narrative was originally written ('Speaker's Commentary); or that Joseph had obtained the name before Benjamin's birth, and that it had clung to him after that event (Inglis). Josephus ('Ant.,' 2.2, 1) gives another reason for Jacob's partiality which is not inconsistent with the statement in the text, viz; the beauty of his person and the virtue of his mind, διὰ τε τὴν τοῦ σώματος εὐγένειαν καὶ διά ψυχῆς ἀρετής. And he made him a coat of many colors—literally, a coat (kithoneth, from kathan, to cover; vide Genesis 3:21) of ends (Keil, Lange), i.e. a tunic reaching to the ancles, and with sleeves reaching to the wrists, and commonly worn by boys and girls of the upper ranks (Josephus, 'Ant.,' 7.8, 9; 2 Samuel 13:18), or a coat of pieces (Kalisch, T. Lewis, Wordsworth); hence a variegated garment, χιτὼν ποικίλος (LXX.), tunica polymita (Vulgate), a coat of many colors (Murphy, 'Speaker's Commentary'). "Such garments are represented on some of the monuments of Egypt. At Beni-Hassan, for example, there is a magnificent excavation forming the tomb of Pihrai, a military officer of Osirtasen I; in which a train of foreign captives appears, who are supposed to be Jebusites, an inscription over one person in the group reading, "The Chief of the Land of the Jebusites. 'The whole of the captives are clad in parti-colored garments, and the tunic of this individual in particular may be called "a coat of many colors". It has been supposed that Jacob's object in conferring this distinction on Joseph was to mark him out as the heir to whom the forfeited birthright of Reuben (1 Chronicles 5:1) was to be transferred (Kurtz, Lange, Gerlach, Bush, Wordsworth, 'Speaker's Commentary,' &c.); but the historian only mentions it as a token of affection, such as was customary in those times for princes to bestow upon their subjects, and parents on their children. Roberts says the same thing is still done among the Hindoos, crimson, purple, and other colors being often tastefully sewed together for beautiful or favored children.

Genesis 37:4

And when (literally, and) his brethren saw that their father loved him more than all his brethren, they (literally, and they) hated him,—as Esau hated Jacob (Genesis 27:41; cf. Genesis 49:23)—and could not speak peaceably unto him—literally, they were not able to speak of him for peace, i e. they could not address him in such a way as to wish him well; they could not offer him the customary salutation of Shalom, or Peace.

Genesis 37:5

And Joseph dreamed a dream (in which, though, as the sequel shows, intended as a Divine communication, there was nothing to distinguish it from an ordinary product of the mind), and he told it to his brethren:—not in pride, since there is no reason to suppose that Joseph as yet understood the celestial origin of his dream but in the simplicity of his heart (Kalisch, Murphy), though in doing so he was also guided, unconsciously it may be, but still really, by an overruling providence, who made use of this very telling of the dream as a step towards its fulfillment (Lawson)—and they hated him yet the more—literally, and they added again to hate him.

Genesis 37:6

And he said unto them, Hear, I pray you, this dream which I have dreamed. Though Joseph did not certainly know that his dream was supernatural, he may have thought that it was, the more so as dreams were in those times commonly regarded as mediums of Divine communication; and in this case it was clearly his duty to impart it to the household, and all the more that the subject of it seemed to be for them a matter of peculiar importance. In the absence of information to the contrary, we are warranted in believing that there was nothing either sinful or offensive in Joseph's spirit or manner in making known his dreams. That which appears to have excited the hostility of his brethren was not the mode of their communication, but the character of their contents.

Genesis 37:7

For (literally, and), behold, we were binding sheaves—literally, binding things bound, i.e. sheaves, alumim, from alam, to bind; the order of the words and the participial form of the verb indicating that the speaker describes the vision as it appeared to his mind—in the field,—literally, in the middle of the field; from which it would appear that Jacob was not a mere nomad, but carried on agricultural operations like his father Isaac (Genesis 26:12)—and, lo,—"the הֵנּה, as repeated in his narration, shows that he had a presentiment of something great" (Lange)—my sheaf arose, and also stood upright (literally, stood, i.e. placed itself upright, and remained so); and, behold, your sheaves stood round about, and made obeisancei.e. bowed themselves down (cf. Genesis 23:7, Abraham bowing to the Hethites)—to my sheaf. The fulfillment of this dream occurred in Egypt (vide Genesis 42:6; Genesis 43:26; Genesis 44:14).

Genesis 37:8

And his brethren (who had no difficulty in interpreting the symbol's significance) said to him (with mingled indignation and contempt), Shalt thou indeed reign over us?—literally, reigning, wilt thou reign? i.e. wilt thou actually reign over us? the emphasis resting on the action of the verb—or shalt thou indeed have dominion over us? The form of expression is the same as that of the preceding clause. And they hated him yet the more (literally and they added again to hate him) for (i.e. on account of) his dreams, and for (or, on account of) his words.

Genesis 37:9

And he dreamed yet another dream,—the doubling of the dream was designed to indicate its certainty (cf. Genesis 41:32)—and told it his brethren, and said, Behold, I have dreamed a dream more; and, behold, the sun (הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ, the minister, from Chaldee root שְׁמַשׁ, the pael of which occurs in Daniel 7:10) and the moon—הַיּרֵחַ, probably, if the word be not a primitive, the circuit-maker, from the unused root יָרַח, = אָרַח, to go about (Furst); or the yellow one, from יָרַח = יָרַק, to be yellow, ח and ק being interchanged (Gesenius)—and the eleven stars—rather, eleven stars, כּוֹכָבִים, globes, or bails, from כָּבַב, to roll up in a ball (vide Genesis 1:10)—made obeisance to me—literally, bowing themselves to me, the participles being employed ut supra, Genesis 37:7. It is apparent that Joseph understood this second dream, even more plainly than the first, to foreshadow, in some way unexplained, his future supremacy over his brethren, who were unmistakably pointed out by the eleven stars of the vision; and this remarkable coincidence between the number of the stars and the number of his brethren would facilitate the inference that his parents were referred to under the other symbols of the sun and moon. In the most ancient symbology, Oriental and Grecian as well as Biblical (Numbers 24:17), it was customary to speak of noble personages, princes, &c; under such figures; and the employment of such terminology by a nomadic people like the Hebrew patriarchs, who constantly lived beneath the open sky, may almost be regarded as a water-mark attesting the historic credibility of this page at least of the sacred record (vide Havernick, 'Introd.,' § 21), in opposition to Bohlen, who finds in the symbolical character of Joseph's dreams an evidence of their unreality, and De Wette, who explains them as the offspring of his aspiring mind.

Genesis 37:10

And he told it to his father, and to his brethren—whom it manifestly concerned, as, for the like reason, he had reported the first dream only to his brethren. That he does not tell it to his mother may be an indication that Rachel was by this time dead. And his father rebuked him,—either to avoid irritating his brethren (Calvin), or to repress an appearance of pride in Joseph (Lange, Murphy, Inglis), or to express his own surprise (Candlish) or irritation (Keil), or sense of the absurdity of the dream (Lawson), which he further demonstrated when he added—and said unto him, What is this dream that thou hast dreamed! Shall I and thy mother

(1) "Rachel, who was neither forgotten nor lost" (Keil), who may possibly have been living at the date of the dream ('Speaker's Commentary'), though then Joseph could not 'have had eleven brothers; who, being dead, was referred to in order to show the impossibility of its ever being fulfilled (Kalisch, Pererius); or

(2) Leah, as the chief mistress of Jacob's household (Willet, Hughes, Inglis); or

(3) Bilhah, Rachel,s maid, who had probably acted as Joseph's mother after Rachel's death (Jewish interpreters, Grotius, and others); or, what seems more probable,

(4) the term "mother" is here introduced simply for the sake of giving completeness to the symbol (Kurtz, Murphy)—and thy brethren indeed come to bow down ourselves to thee—Joseph's brethren ultimately did so in Egypt (Genesis 41:6); Joseph's father practically did so when he recognized Joseph's greatness and depended on him for support (Genesis 47:12). It is certain that Leah died before the immigration to Egypt (Genesis 49:31), and it cannot be determined whether Bilhah or Zilpah went to Egypt—to the earth. Jacob seems here, by intensifying Joseph's language, to resent the claim which it conveyed.

Genesis 37:11

And his brethren envied him. The verb קָנָא (unused in Kal), to become red in the face, seems to indicate that the hatred of Joseph's brethren revealed itself in scowling looks. But his father observed the saying—literally, kept the word, διετήρησε τὸ ῥῆμα (LXX.). Cf. Daniel 7:28; Luke 2:51.


Genesis 37:2-11

Joseph in his father's house.


1. With them in the sense of as well as them. That is to say, Joseph no more than the other sons of his father was trained to indolence. It is the duty of parents to educate their children in some useful and honorable calling. Even when not required for procuring daily bread, it is of advantage as a means of withdrawing one from temptations which would otherwise beset him, while it largely enhances the enjoyment of existence, and enables one to contribute more or less directly to the sum of human happiness. Adam. Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and even Laban, all brought up their sons to honest toil.

2. With them in the sense of like them. That is, he was, as they had been before him, instructed in the business of a husbandman and shepherd. There is evidence that Jacob combined the callings of an agriculturist as well as sheep-farmer, and trained his boys to sow and reap and bind sheaves as well as tend the flocks and herds on his estate. From this, however, it were wrong to argue that all the children in a family should be trained alike, or put to learn the same craft or profession. In Jacob's day and Joseph's there was little choice of openings for young men who had aspirations above the crook or the plough. But in these times the avocations of men are as diverse as their gifts; and in all respects it is better—more beneficial to society at large, and more advantageous for the individual-that a wise discrimination be exercised by parents and guardians in selecting spheres of labor for those dependent on or entrusted to them that shall be suited to their gifts and tastes.

3. With them in the sense of beside them. Joseph accompanied his brethren when they tended the flocks or reaped the ripened grain, and in particular associated himself, for reasons suggested in the Exposition, with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah. It was a privilege which Joseph enjoyed that he did not need to go from home to learn his trade; and doubtless Joseph's amiable disposition would make the society of his father's sons more agreeable to him than the company of strangers.


1. By his father.

(1) The ground of Jacob's partiality for Joseph. He was the son of Jacob's old age. However this expression may be explained (vide Exposition), the amount of it seems to be that Joseph had come to gladden Jacob's heart after a considerable period of waiting, and at a time when Jacob was beginning to feel himself an old man. Hence more than to any of his other children Jacob's affections went out to the firstborn of Rachel, and this affection could not fail to strengthen after Rachel's death. It is just possible also that it was kept alive and fostered by a reminiscence of Rachel's beauty, which he saw reproduced in the well-proportioned frame and finely-cut features of the growing lad. Anyhow, Jacob's fondness for Joseph was palpable; and without affirming that it was right, it may at least be contended that it was natural, the more especially when Joseph's piety is contrasted with the notorious wickedness of Jacob's other sons.

(2) The exhibition of Jacob's partiality for Joseph. Many parents who find themselves in Jacob's Situation, drawn to one child more than another in their families, make an effort at least to conceal a preference which in their inmost hearts they cannot but feel to be justifiable. But Jacob, with a sad lack of prudence, displayed his superior estimation of Rachel's son by presenting him with a rich and valuable coat of ends or pieces (vide Exposition). As might have been expected, such a mark of preference was distasteful to his other children, and, had it not been for Joseph's superior character, might have been morally hurtful to Joseph himself. As it was, it was no kindness to Joseph, but only a foolish gratification to Joseph's father.

2. By God. Joseph was honored to receive dreams prophetic of his future greatness. The first, the dream of the bowing sheaves, was a Divine foreshadowing of his advancement above his brethren; and the second, the dream of the nodding orbs, of his elevation above all the members of his family. Even had they not concerned himself at all, to have been made the recipient of Divine communications was an honor; much more when these communications related to his own exaltation. This preference of Joseph was unquestionably gracious, but it was also natural (1 Samuel 2:30)


1. The cause of their hatred. This was—

(1) The superior place which he enjoyed in their father's affection (Genesis 37:4). Parents may here observe the danger of cherishing, and especially of manifesting, a preference of one member of the family above another. Unless in very exceptional circumstances, all are equally entitled to a father's care and a mother's love.

(2) The superior piety he displayed above themselves. It is difficult to credit the actors in the Shechemite and Dothan tragedies with anything in the shape of religion. Certainly they were not looked upon as exemplary characters by those who had the misfortune to live beside them. Out of their father's sight they shook off any little restraint which his presence may have inspired. Their scandalous behavior became the talk of every neighborhood they chanced to visit; and Joseph hearing it, as in duty bound, reported it to Jacob. Not that the mere reporting of it at home would much concern these reckless youths. Possibly it would exasperate their minds against their brother. But the thing which would incense them most would be the disinclination which he showed to run with them into the same excess of riot.

(3) The superior honor he received from God. The brethren clearly enough understood the dreams to contain a prognostication of Joseph's future, else why did they allow themselves to become inflamed with anger on account of a foolish boy's fancies? At least they believed Joseph regarded them in this light, and they hated him on that account.

2. The progress of their hatred.

(1) They omitted to give him the customary salutation of Shalem. It is a bad sign when a man declines to exchange friendly greetings with his neighbor, and much more with his brother.

(2) They passed on to deep and bitter hatred. They hated him yet the more for his dreams and Iris words. Evil passions have a tendency to grow, and should be nipped in the bud. Obsta principiis.

(3) They envied him; the fierce malignity of their enraged spirits burning in their bosoms, suffusing their countenances with ominous looks and angry scowls, and generally expressing itself in dislike, irritation, and annoyance.

3. The end of their hatred. It was impossible that the gathering storm should continue long without bursting. All things mundane, evil as well as good, strive after completeness. "Lust, when it hath conceived, bringeth forth sin: sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death" (James 1:15). Hence, "whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer" (1 John 3:15); initially in thought, and ultimately, granting time and opportunity, in deed. The murderous feeling of Joseph's brethren very speedily found occasion to become the fratricidal act.


Genesis 37:1-36

The representative man.

Jacob may be said to fall into the background from this time until his parting benediction. The kingdom of God is represented in Joseph and his history. The main points in this chapter are—

I. GOD'S DISTINGUISHING GRACE TO JOSEPH, separating him from his brethren in character, in his father's affection, in the method of his life, in' the communications of the Spirit. Joseph is the type of the believer, faithful to the covenant, amongst both the Canaanitish heathen and the unfaithful children of the covenant, the patriarchs.

II. THE WORKING OF EVIL PASSIONS AND MORAL IMPURITY BROUGHT TO A CLIMAX THROUGH THE DEVELOPMENT OF GOD'S GRACE IN THE INDIVIDUAL. Joseph brought the evil report to Jacob. Joseph dreamed. Joseph was evidently both in himself superior to his brethren and more favored by God. That is the old story—the Cain spirit developed by contact with the Abel spirit. A time of special grace is always a time of special wickedness and judgment. Witness the advent of the Lord, the Reformation period, the revival of religion in the last century, leading on to the outburst of both wickedness and judgment at the end.

III. THE DREAMS OF THE PIOUS LAD WERE THEMSELVES STEPS IN THE COURSE OF REVELATION. The dominion which was foreshadowed was that of the spiritual kingdom over the unspiritual.

IV. THE PROVIDENTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE PROMISE. Partly through the personal character of Joseph, partly through the evil passions of his brethren, partly through the apparently casual incidents of the neighborhood, partly through the Spirit of righteousness working in the heart of Reuben, partly through the weakness and fondness of Jacob. How strangely "all things work together" in God's hands 1 He weaves the web composed of many single threads into one united, orderly pattern as a whole in which we are able to trace his own thought and purpose.

V. Joseph in the pit while his brethren sit down to eat bread represents THE BELIEVER SUFFERING IN THE MIDST OF AN UNBELIEVING WORLD. A type of Jesus cast into the pit of his humiliation, while the Jewish people despised and rejected claims, his prophetic words, his evident favor with God, and by their transactions with Gentiles, the Romans, gave him up to what seemed to them ruin, but what was the crowning of his head with glory. We begin to see at this point that, as the Psalmist sang, "the word of the Lord tried him."

VI. THE DELIVERANCE Of Joseph and his transference to the sphere of his future triumph are EFFECTED THROUGH JUDAH IMMEDIATELY, THROUGH THE OTHER BRETHREN AND THE ISHMAELITES OR MIDIANITES SECONDARILY. These names of Judah, Ishmael, Midian remind us that the fleshly links which bind the descendants of Abraham together are not lost sight of by God, are called in to serve the purposes of grace, but not to take the place of the true spiritual work, which goes on in its own appointed channel. So in the history of the Church, while there are many secondary influences at work, still there is a remnant according to the election of grace in which there is the real continuity of Divine dealings.

VII. The genuine grief of Reuben, the barbarous inhumanity towards their father of the fallen sons, THE OVERWHELMING SORROW OF THE AGED, HEART-BROKEN JACOB, the rising up of all his sons and daughters to comfort him, are all beautiful and significant touches of nature in this history, which remind us that we are not "following cunningly-devised fables, and that God's gracious kingdom of truth and love does not annihilate the human in order to reveal the Divine, but puts its rainbow on the cloud.

VIII. THE INTRODUCTION OF EGYPT again into the history. Egypt is the type of the world, as built upon the foundation of fallen humanity alone, without the special grace of God, Into that bulk of the unrenewed race the leaven of the kingdom must be put. The connection between the covenant family and Egypt, which we trace in the history of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as afterwards in their descendants, represents at once

(1) the thoroughly human character of the kingdom that God would set up in the earth, for the people of God found much in Egypt which they carried away with them afterwards, and assimilated to their own specially-communicated faith;

(2) the breadth of the promises of God—the separation of the one people was for the sake of all the families of the earth.—R.


Genesis 37:2-4

Joseph at home.

"Joseph, being seventeen years old," &c. Picturesque scene is the encampment of Jacob. How well the dark camel-hair tents harmonize with the general character of the spots in which they are pitched. Peace and purity should dwell there. Ten men of the tribe of Jacob are most depraved, but their characters only threw into brighter prominence that of Joseph. It is probable that Jacob gave greater attention to the training of Joseph than to that of his brethren. He showed favoritism also. His act of giving him a garb of varied color may not altogether have been so foolish and weak as sometimes it has been supposed to be. It was simply an ordinary Eastern way of indicating that Joseph was to be the future leader and sheik of the encampment. Think of Joseph's home life, and learn—

I. THAT AT HOME WE SHOULD, LIKE JOSEPH, LEARN TO PREPARE FOR FUTURE LIFE. Doubtless Jacob would tell Joseph of the promises of God to Abraham, of the tradition of the Deluge and the Fall; probably also of his own fleeing from home, and his dream in the desert, when he saw "the great altar-stair sloping through darkness up to God," and the angels ascending and descending. Joseph always afterwards has great faith in dreams. No book had he. The Bible was not written. Traditions and oral teaching formed his mental training.

II. AT HOME WE SHOULD ALWAYS HAVE SOME EMPLOYMENT. His father loved him too dearly to allow him to grow up in habits of idleness. He learned to handle the crook and to become a faithful messenger. No work is to be despised, for all may be a preparation for future usefulness.

III. AT HOME WE SHOULD NOT WILLINGLY BE WITNESSES OF WRONGDOING. The lives of Joseph's brethren were sinful, and their doings deceitful. Some things he is obliged to know about of which it is dangerous to keep silence. The welfare of the whole tribe was being risked by the elder brothers, and Joseph, fearing that, tells his father, or seeks counsel that he may be strengthened to resist evil influence.

IV. AT HOME WE MAY HAVE GLOWING VISIONS OF THE FUTURE. The two dreams concerning the sheaves, and the sun and moon and stars, brought hate from his brethren, but they had an influence on Joseph's after life. They were remarkably fulfilled. We all have some such visions. We build "castles in the air." The stern realities of life tone down our dreams. It is well to have some such dreams. Without them few make any advance in life. We are not to be like mere senseless stones, but growing plants. Better is it to bear fruit than to wait to become only the sport of circumstances.—H.

Verses 12-25


Genesis 37:12

And his brethren went to feed their father's flock in Shechemi.e. the modern Nablous, in the plain of Muknah, which belonged to Jacob partly by purchase and partly by conquest (vide Genesis 33:19; Genesis 34:27). Shechem was at a considerable distance from the vale of Hebron, where the patriarchal family at this time resided.

Genesis 37:13

And Israel (vide Genesis 32:28; Genesis 35:10) said unto Joseph, Do not thy brethren feed the flock (literally, Are not thy brethren shepherding?) in Shechem? come, and I will send thee unto them. Either he was solicitous of the safety of his sons while in the vicinity of Shechem (Lawson), or he hoped to effect a reconciliation between them and Joseph (Candlish). And he (i.e. Joseph, in response to this invitation, expressed a willingness to undertake a mission to his brethren, and) said to him, Here am I.

Genesis 37:14

And he (Jacob) said to him, Go, I pray thee, see whether it be well with thy brethren (literally, see the place of thy brethren), and well with the flocks (literally, and the peace of the flock); and bring me word again. So (literally, and) he sent him out of the vale of Hebron (vide Genesis 35:27), and he same to Shechem—a distance of sixty miles.

Genesis 37:15, Genesis 37:16

And a certain man (or simply a man) found him, and, behold, he was wandering in the field (obviously seeking some thing or person): and the man asked him, saying, What seekest thou? And he said, I seek my brethren:—or, more emphatically, My Brethren I (sc. am) seekingtell me, I pray thee, where they feed their flocks—or, Where (are) they shepherding?

Genesis 37:17

And the man said, They are departed hence; for I heard them say, Let us go to DothanDothaim, "the Two ells," a place twelve miles north of Samaria in the direction of the plain of Esdraelon, situated on the great caravan road from Mount Gilead to Egypt, the scene of one of the greatest miracles of Elisha the prophet (2 Kings 6:13-18), and, though now a deserted ruin, still called by its ancient name. And Joseph went after his brethren, and found them in Dothan. "Just beneath Tell Dothan, which still preserves its name, is the little oblong plain, containing the best pasturage in the country, and well chosen by Jacob's sons when they had exhausted for a time the wider plain of Shechem".

Genesis 37:18

And when (literally, and) they saw him afar off, even (or, and) before he came near unto them, they (literally, and they) conspired against him (or, dealt with him fraudulently) to slay him

Genesis 37:19

And they said one to another (literally, a man to his brother), Behold, this dreamer—literally, this lord of dreams (of. Genesis 14:13; Exodus 24:14)—cometh—expressive of rancor, contempt, and hatred.

Genesis 37:20

Come now therefore, and lot us slay him, and cast him into some pit (literally, into one of the pits or cisterns in the neighborhood), and we will say (sc. to his father and ours), Some (literally, an) evil beast hath devoured him (which will account for his disappearance); and we shall see what will become of his dreams—or, what his dreams will be.

Genesis 37:21, Genesis 37:22

And Reuben (the eldest son, and therefore probably regarding himself as in some degree responsible for Joseph's safety) heard it, and he delivered him out of their hands; and said, Let us not kill him—literally, Let us not destroy his life (nephesh). And Reuben said (further) unto them, Shed no blood, but cast him into this pit that is in the wilderness (i.e. into a dry pit that was near), and lay no hand upon him; that (the adverb indicates the purpose Reuben had in view) he might rid him (translated above deliver him) out of their hands, to deliver him (or, more correctly, to return him) to his father again.

Genesis 37:23

And it came to pass, when Joseph was come unto his brethren, that they stripped Joseph out of his coat, his coat of many colorsi.e. his coat of ends, or coat of pieces (vide on Genesis 37:3)—that was on him.

Genesis 37:24, Genesis 37:25

And they took him, and cast him into a pit: and the pit was empty, there was no water in it. Cisterns when empty, or only covered with mud at the bottom, were sometimes used as temporary prisons (Jeremiah 38:6; Jeremiah 40:15). And—leaving him, as they must have calculated, to perish by a painful death through starvation, with exquisite cold-bloodedness, paying no heed to his piteous outcries and appeals (Genesis 41:21)—they sat down (the callous composure of the act indicates deplorable brutality on the part of Joseph's brethren) to eat bread (perhaps with a secret feeling of satisfaction, if not also exultation, that they had effectually disposed of the young man and his dreams): and they lifted up their eyes and looked, and, Behold, a companyorchath, from arach, to walk; a band of travelers, especially of merchantmen; a caravan; συνοδία ὁδοιπόροι (LXX.; of. Job 6:19)—of Ishmaelites—Arabs descended from Ishmael, who occupied the district lying between Egypt and Assyria (Genesis 25:18), and, as appears from the record, carried on a trade with the former country. That Ishmael's descendants should already have developed into a trading nation will not be surprising (Bohlen) if one reflects that Ishmael may have married in his eighteenth or twentieth year, i.e. about 162 years before the date of the present occurrence, that four generations may have been born in the interval, and that, if Ishmael's sons had only five sons each, his posterity in the fifth generation (not reckoning females) may have amounted to 15,000 persons (Murphy). But in point of fact the Ishmaelites spoken of are not described as nations—simply as a company of merchants, without saying how numerous it was (Havernick, 'Introd.,'§ 21)—came (literally, coming) from Oilcad (vide Genesis 31:21) with (literally, and) their camels bearing spicery—נְכאת, either an infinitive from נָכָא, to break, to grind (?), and signifying a pounding, breaking in pieces, hence aromatic powder (Gesenius); or a contraction from נְכָאוֹת (Ewald), meaning that which is powdered or pulverized. Rendered θυμιαμάτα (LXX.), aromata (Vulgate), στύραξ (Aquila), it was probably the gum tragacanth, many kinds of which appear in Syria (Furst, Gesenius, Rosenmüller, Keil, Kalisch, Lange, Murphy), or storax, the resinous exudation of the styrax officinale, which abounds in Palestine and the East (Aquila, Bochart, Bush, 'Speaker's Commentary,' Inglis)—and balm—צֱרִי (in pause צרי, after vau of union צְרִי), mentioned as one of the most precious fruits of Palestine (Genesis 43:11), rendered ῥητίνη (LXX.) and refina (Vulgate), and derived from צָוָה, to flow, to run (hence, literally, an outflowing, or out-dropping). was unquestionably a balsam, but of what tree cannot now be ascertained, distilling from a tree or fruit growing in Gilead, and highly prized for its healing properties (Jeremiah 8:22; Jeremiah 46:11). Vide Lexicons (Gesenius and Furst) sub voce; Michaelis, 'Suppl.' p. 2142; Kalisch in locoand myrrh,לֹט, στακτή (LXX.), stacte (Vulgate), pistacia, was more probably ladanum (Gesenius, Furst, Rosenmüller, Keil, Kalisch, et alii), an odoriferous gum formed upon the leaves of the cactus-rose, a shrub growing in Arabia, Syria, and Palestine—going—the caravan route from Gilead crossed the Jordan in the neighborhood of Bersan, and, sweeping through Jenin and the plain of Dothan, joined another track leading southwards from Damascus by way of Ramleh and Gaza—to carry it down to Egypt. At that time the land of the Pharaohs was the chief emporium for the world's merchandise.


Genesis 37:12-25

Joseph among his brethren at Dothan.


1. Its local destination. This was Shechem, at a distance of sixty miles from Hebron, where Jacob had previously resided for a number of years and acquired a small estate (Genesis 33:18, Genesis 33:19), where Jacob's sons had committed, a few years before, the terrible atrocity which made the name of Israel stink throughout the land (Genesis 34:26-30); and where now Joseph's brethren were shepherding their flocks, having gone thither either on account of the excellent pasture, or in order to be beyond the reach of Joseph and his tale-bearing, or perhaps with a mind to keep an eye on their father's estate.

2. Its kindly intention. Joseph was dispatched to this important sheep-station in the north to require after the welfare of his brethren. That Jacob should have sent a son so tender and beloved on a journey so arduous and an errand so fraught with danger to himself, considering the well-known hostility of his brethren towards him, if a proof of Jacob's want of consideration, was also a mark of his parental solicitude for his sons' behavior, as well as a sign of his apprehensions for their safety, venturing, as they had, to revisit the scene of their former crimes, and perhaps it may be added, an indication of his desire to effect a reconciliation between Joseph and his brethren.

3. Its cheerful susception. Though realizing better than his father did the perilous character of the enterprise, in consequence of knowing more exactly than his father the depth of malignant feeling entertained towards him by his brethren, Joseph did not hesitate to comply with his father's instructions, but, making nothing of the long journey, and keeping silent as to the risks of increased hatred, if nothing more, which he must have known that mission would entail upon him, cheerfully replied, Here am I. What a bright example of true filial piety and obedience!

4. Its successful completion. Arriving at Shechem, he first failed to find his brethren, and then lost his way, but ultimately, on being directed by a stranger, discovered them at Dothan. The perseverance of Joseph in carrying through his father's commission may be profitably studied, as a pattern to all to whom any sort of work, but more especially Christian work, is entrusted.


1. Its innocent occasion—the approach of Joseph in his long-sleeved and long-skirted tunic. Like a gunpowder train that has been carefully prepared, and only wants the application of a spark to produce an explosion, the brethren of Joseph were only needing some trifling incident to elicit all the fratricidal hate which was already growing in their bosoms, and that incident was supplied by the sight of the coat of ends. It was a striking illustration of how great results frequently proceed from apparently insignificant causes (James 3:4, James 3:5).

2. Its murderous character. It aimed at the destruction of Joseph's life. With unexampled unanimity, not a voice was raised against the proposal (perhaps made by Simeon) to kill him and cast his lifeless body into a pit. The proposal of Reuben must have been understood by the others as only a more excruciatingly cruel way of inflicting death, viz; by starvation. See here in Jacob's family a development of the same spirit of murder as existed in Adam's. Like Cain, the sons of Jacob were of that wicked one, and slew (in intention at least) their brother, and for the same reason (1 John 3:12).

3. Its impious design—to spoil his dreams. From this it is evident that they regarded his dreams as a Heaven-sent prognostication of his future greatness; else, if they regarded them as purely boyish fancies, why should they have felt annoyed at what was so evidently groundless? Hence, in seeking to prevent the realization of his dreams they were actually fighting against God. But it is just precisely in proportion as wicked men see God's hand in any prophecy or program that they take measures to insure its defeat (cf. 1 Samuel 19:1; 2 Kings 6:14).

4. Its ruthless execution. They took him and cast him into a pit. The crime was perpetrated

(1) with insolent humiliation—they stripped the poor lad of his pretty coat;

(2) with violent brutality—they cast him into the pit; Jeremiah was let down by cords (Jeremiah 38:6);

(3) with relentless cruelty—they heeded not his outcries and entreaties (Genesis 42:21, Genesis 42:22); and

(4) with exquisite cold-bloodedness—having dispatched their infernal business, with infinite nonchalance the ruffians sat down to eat bread, to regale their appetites after a good day's work.

III. THE ATTEMPTED RESCUE. The stratagem of Reuben was—

1. Mercifully designed. Reuben, in some respects not a person to be greatly admired, weak and vacillating in his character, and easily drawn aside by stronger natures into sinful courses, appears in this matter to have been the only one of Joseph's brethren in whom the natural affections of a brother were not completely overborne. Though he wanted the courage to resist his stronger-minded brothers, he seems to have conceived the purpose of saving, if he could, the life of Joseph. So far the stratagem was good, only it was—

2. Timidly planned. The narrative would almost seem to convey that Reuben in the first onset of his opposition to his brother's nefarious intentions had succeeded in wresting Joseph from their hands. Had he at that moment asserted himself with vigor and boldness, as became the firstborn of the house, he might have saved Joseph altogether. But, alas, true to his feeble and pusillanimous character, he allowed himself to be overcome by the clamors of his fiercer-natured brethren, and only proposed that instead of imbruing their hands in Joseph's blood they should inflict on him the horrors of starvation. In making such a proposal of course Reuben hoped to be able to effect his deliverance, in which he might have succeeded, had he acted with promptitude and decision. But instead his stratagem was—

3. Weakly carried through. Where Reuben was when his brethren were comforting their hearts with a dinner after Joseph's consignment to the cistern, and concocting the matter of his sale, the narrative does not say; but most likely he was by himself, deliberating, and resolving, and hesitating, and delaying, instead of acting. Hence his stratagem was—

4. Completely defeated. By the time he had got his mind made up to act it was too late. When he returned to the pit Joseph was gone, and, like many another procrastinator, he could only bemoan his own folly.


Genesis 37:14, Genesis 37:15

Joseph leaving home.

"Go, I pray thee, see whether," &c. Joseph left home unexpectedly. He knew not when he left it to seek his brethren that he would never come back again. After a longer journey than he anticipated Joseph finds his brethren.

I. Like many leaving home, Joseph MET WITH FAITHFUL GUIDES. There are generally companions, teachers, ministers to help.

II. Like many leaving home, Joseph FELL INTO SNARES. He could not help himself. The snares were not such as were willingly entered. The wicked entrapped him. On his youth, far from home, defenseless, and kindly-intentioned, nine cowardly men fell.

III. Like many away from home, Joseph FOUND THAT GOD CARED FOR HIM WHEN HIS EARTHLY FATHER COULD NOT. Reuben was the means of saving him from death. Sold into slavery, he was still on the highway to eminence. We have to beware of hateful and murderous thoughts, remembering "that he that hateth his brother is" (so far as intent goes) "a murderer." In all journeyings we have to commit our way unto the Lord, and he will guide and defend.—H.


Genesis 37:20, Genesis 37:21

God's providence and man's responsibility.

I. GOD'S PURPOSES CARRIED OUT BY MEN IRRESPECTIVE OF THEIR OWN PLANS. The word to Abraham (Genesis 15:13) does not seem to have been thought of by Jacob. After long wandering he seemed to be settled in Canaan. But God was bringing to pass his word. Jacob's injudicious fondness for Joseph, the anger and murderous design of his brethren (cf. John 11:50; Acts 3:17), Reuben's timid effort for his deliverance (cf. Act 5:1-42 :88), Judah's worldly wise counsel (cf. Luke 13:31), Joseph's imprisonment by Potiphar, the conspiracy in Pharaoh's household, were so many steps by which the sojourn in Egypt was brought about. So in the founding of the Christian Church. The writing on the cross (John 19:20) pointed to three separate lines of history, two of them pagan, which combined to bring about the sacrifice of Christ and the spread of the gospel. So in the case of individuals. God's promises are sure (2 Corinthians 1:20). There may seem to be many hindrances, from ourselves (Psalms 65:3) or from circumstances; but no cause for doubt (Luke 12:32; Luke 22:35). Unlikely or remote causes are often God's instruments. The envy of the Jews opened for St. Paul, through his imprisonment, a door to the Gentiles which otherwise he would not have had (Acts 21:28; Philippians 1:13).

II. IT IS NO EXCUSE FOR WRONGDOING THAT IT HAS WORKED GOOD (Cf. Romans 9:19). The cruel act of his brethren brought about the realizing of Joseph's dreams, his greatness in Egypt, the support of the whole family during the famine, and the fulfillment of God's word; but not the less was it wrong (Genesis 42:21; cf. Matthew 26:24). Moral guilt depends not upon the result, but on the motive. God has given the knowledge of redemption to move our will, and the example of Christ and the moral law to guide our lives. The fulfillment of his purposes belongs to himself. He needs not our help to bring it to pass. It is not his will that we should forsake his immutable rules of right and Wrong, even for the sake of bringing on the fulfillment of prophecy. Much evil has sprung from neglect of this—e.g. the maxim, Faith need not be kept with heretics. God's will and promise, Psalms 37:3-5.

III. To EACH ONE THERE IS A HISTORY WITHIN A HISTORY. Our actions lead to their appropriate results (Galatians 6:8) at the same time that they tend to carry out God's purposes, whether we will or not. Each one is a factor in the great plan which in the course of ages God is working out (John 5:17). Men such as they are, wise or ignorant, guided by the Spirit or resisting him, loving or selfish, pressing upwards or following worldly impulses, all are so directed by a power they cannot comprehend that they bring about what he wills (Psalms 2:2-4). But along with this there is a history which concerns ourselves, which we write for ourselves, the issues of which depend immediately upon ourselves. To each a measure of time, knowledge, opportunity has been given, on the use of which the line of our course depends. Nothing can turn aside the course of God's providence; but upon our faithfulness or unfaithfulness depends our place and joy in it. Hence encouragement to work for Christ, however small our powers (1 Samuel 14:6). The little is accepted as well as the great; and as "workers together with him" (2 Corinthians 6:1) our work cannot be in vain.—M.

Verses 26-36


Genesis 37:26, Genesis 37:27

And Judah (apparently shrinking from the idea of murder) said unto his brethren, What profit is it if (literally, what of advantage that) we slay our brother, and conceal his blood? (i.e. and hide the fact of his murder). Come, and let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him (literally, and our hand, let it not be upon him, i.e. to slay him); for he is our brother and our flesh—or, more expressly, our brother and our flesh he (cf. Genesis 29:14). And his brethren were content—literally, hearkened, viz; to the proposal.

Genesis 37:28

Then there passed by Midianites merchantmen;—literally, and passed by the men, Midianites (by country), merchants (by profession). On the different appellations given to the traders vide infra, Genesis 37:36and they—not the Midianites (Davidson), but Joseph's brethren—drew and lifted up Joseph out of the pit, and sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver—literally, for twenty (sc. shekels) of silver—L2 10s.; the price afterwards fixed for a boy between five and twenty (Le Genesis 27:5), the average price of a slave being thirty shekels (Ezekiel 21:32), and Joseph only bringing twenty because he was a lad (Kurtz), because the Midianites desired to make money by the transaction (Keil), perhaps because-his brethren wished to avoid the reproach of having acted from love of gain (Gerlach), but most probably because Joseph's brethren cared little what they had for him, if so be they were rid of him (Lawson). On the term keseph vide Genesis 20:16. And they brought Joseph into Egypt—where they in turn disposed of their purchase, doubtless at a profit (verse 36).

Genesis 37:29, Genesis 37:30

And Reuben (in whose absence apparently the scheme of sale had been concocted and carried through) returned to the pit (obviously with a view to deliver Joseph); and, behold, Joseph was not in the pit; and he rent his clothes—a token of his mingled grief and horror at the discovery (of. Genesis 37:34; Genesis 44:13; 2 Samuel 13:31; 2 Kings 18:37; Job 1:20). And he returned unto his brethren, and said, The child (or young man, as in Genesis 4:23, where יֶלֶד in the one hemistich is equivalent to אִישׁ in the other) is not; and I, whither shall I goi.e. however shall I account for his disappearance?

Genesis 37:31, Genesis 37:32

And theyi.e. Joseph's Brethren, including Reuben, to whom manifestly the matter had been explained, and who wanted the courage either to expose their wickedness or to dissent from their device for deceiving Jacob—took Joseph's coat, and killed a kid of the goats,—more correctly, a he-goat of the goats, since the name of goat seems to have belonged in a wider sense to other animals also (Gesenius); usually understood to mean the somewhat older he-goat which was used as a sin offering—Le Genesis 16:9; Genesis 23:19; Numbers 7:16; Numbers 15:24 (Furst)—and dipped the coat in the blood; and they sent the coat of many colors (vide on Numbers 15:3), and they brought it (or caused it to be brought by the hands of a servant) to their father, and said (of course by the lips of the messenger), This have we found: know now whether it be thy son's coat or no. Either Jacob's sons had not the fortitude to witness the first outburst of his grief, or they had not the effrontery requisite to carry through their scheme in their own persons, and were accordingly obliged to employ another, probably a slave, to carry home the bloody coat to Jacob in Hebron.

Genesis 37:33

And he knew it, and said, It is my son's coat; an evil beast (vide Genesis 37:20) hath devoured him (this was precisely what his sons meant him to infer); Joseph is without doubt rent in pieces—טְרֹף טֹרַף, the inf. abs. Kal with the Pual expressing undoubted certainty.

Genesis 37:34

And Jacob rent his clothes, and put sackcloth upon his loins,—שָׂק (cf. σάκος, el, frog, saccus), the usual dress of mourners (2 Samuel 3:31; Nehemiah 9:1; Esther 4:1), was a coarse, thick haircloth, of which corn sacks were also made (Genesis 42:25), and which in cases of extreme mental distress was worn next the skin (1 Kings 21:27)—and mourned for his son many days. Though twenty-two years elapsed before Jacob again beheld his son, and though doubtless the old man's grief for the premature and, violent death, as he imagined, of Rachel's child was little abated by the lapse, of time, yet the expression "many days" may only be employed to mark the intensity of Jacob's sorrow, which continued longer than the customary mournings of the period.

Genesis 37:35

And all his sons—the criminals become comforters (Lange)- and all his daughters—either Jacob had other daughters besides Dinah (Kalisch, Gerlach, 'Speaker's Commentary'), or these included his daughters-in-law, the word being employed as in Ruth 1:11, Ruth 1:12 (Willet, Bush, Murphy), or the term is used freely without being designed to indicate whether he had one or more girls in his family—rose up to comfort him (this implies the return of Jacob's brethren to Hebron); but he refused to be comforted; and he said (here the thought must be supplied: It is vain to ask me-to be comforted), For I will go down into the grave unto my son mourning—or, retaining the order of the Hebrew words, which is almost always more expressive than those adopted by our translators, I will go down to my son mourning to, or towards, in the direction of, Sheol. The term שְׁאֹל—more fully שְׁאוֹל, an inf. absol, for a noun, either

(1) from שָׁאַל = שָׁעַל, to go down, to sink (Gesenius, Ftirst), signifying the hollow place; or,

(2) according to the older lexicographers and etymologists, from שָׁאַל, to ask, and meaning either the region which inexorably summons all men into its shade, the realm that is always craving because never satisfied (Keil, Murphy, Lange), or the land that excites questioning and wonder in the human heart, "the undiscovered country from whose bourne no traveler returns" (T. Lewis)—is not the grave, since Jacob's son had no grave, but the place of departed spirits, the unseen world (Ἅδης, LXX.) into which the dead disappear, and where they consciously exist (2 Samuel 12:23). Thus (literally, and) his father (not Isaac) wept for him.

Genesis 37:36

And the Midianites—or Medanites, descendants of Medan, a brother of Midian, both of whom were sons of Abraham by Keturah (Genesis 25:2). That the Arabian merchants are called Ishmaelites (Genesis 37:27), Midianites (Genesis 37:28), and Medanites (Genesis 37:36), is explained as an evidence of varying legends (Tuch, Bleek, Davidson, Colenso), but is better accounted for as indicating that the traders were composed of men of various nations (Clericus); that the Midianites, Ishmaelites, and Medanites were often confounded from their common parentage and closely similar habits (Keil); that the narrator did not intend to lay stress upon the nationality, but upon the occupation, of the travelers (Havernick); that the proprietors of the caravan were Ishmaelites, and the company attending it Midianites or Medanites (Lange); that the Ishmaelites were the genus, and the Midianites and Medanites the species, of the same nation (Rosenmüller, Quarry); that the Midianites or Medanites were the actual purchasers of Joseph, while the caravan took its name from the Ishmaelites, who formed the larger portion of it (Murphy)—sold him into Egypt (i.e. having brought him into Egypt, perhaps, as Luther conjectures, passing through Hebron on the way, sold him) unto Potiphar,—the name is abbreviated from Poti-Phera (Genesis 41:50), i.e. he who belongs to the sun (Gesenius, sub voce). The LXX. render Πετεφρής or Πετεφρῆ—an officer—סָרִיס, from סָרַס, an unused root signifying to pull up by the roots, originally means a eunuch (Isaiah 56:3, Isaiah 56:4), such as Oriental monarchs were accustomed to set over their harems (Esther 2:3, Esther 2:14, Esther 2:15; Esther 4:5), but is here employed to denote an officer or courtier generally, without any reference to the primary signification, since Potiphar was married—of Pharaoh's (vide Genesis 12:15), and captain of the guard—literally, captain of the slaughterers, i.e. chief officer of the executioners, the nature of whoso duties may be understood from the fact that he was keeper of the State prison, "where the king's prisoners were bound" (Genesis 39:20).


Genesis 37:26-36

Joseph carried by Midianites to Egypt.


1. The wicked proposal. "Come, and let us sell him. By whatever motives Judah was actuated, the notion that either he or his brethren had a right thus to dispose of Joseph's life was not simply an open violation of the Divine law which constituted all men with equal fights, and in particular made every man his brother's keeper, not his brother's destroyer or proprietor, but a hideous discovery of the utter perversion of moral nature which had taken place in the case of Joseph's brethren. So low had they now sunk, that they were become not alone without humanity, but without natural affection as well.

2. The double reason.

(1) The advantageous character of the proposed transaction is exhibited by Judah, who doubtless understood the sort of arguments that would weigh most powerfully with his brethren. Simply to assassinate the hated stripling and conceal his blood might indeed gratify their feelings of revenge, but would not do much to enrich them. Might it not be possible to dispose of him more profitably than by the coarse way of killing him? Then

(2) the humane aspect of the proposed transaction is pathetically dwelt upon by Judah,—"he is our brother and our flesh,"—in which perhaps may also be detected Judah's subtle knowledge of human nature, in reasoning that men who cared nothing for the claims of humanity and brotherhood in themselves might be induced to do a little cheap philanthropy by sparing Joseph, after they had first been made to see that it would likewise be profitable. Judah's last remark was a master-stroke which overbore every vestige of opposition: "his brethren were content."

3. The favorable opportunity. Many wicked schemes are happily never carried through because the opportunity is wanting—thanks to Divine providence! But, on the other hand, thousands of nefarious crimes are born of the opportunity—thanks to the sinful ingenuity of the fallen heart I The scheme of Judah was clearly suggested by the providential circumstance that at the moment an Ishmaelitish caravan was passing by on its way with gums and spicery to Egypt. That caravan was God's chariot sent to convey Joseph to the throne of Egypt. Judah asked his brethren to see in it a prison van to take their brother into slavery in Egypt. Wicked men and God may often seem to play at cross purposes with one another, but God always triumphs. Man proposes; God disposes.

4. The accomplished transaction. "They drew and lifted Joseph up out of the pit, and sold him to the Midianites for thirty pieces of silver." The first recorded specimen of a transaction which has frequently been repeated in the history of mankind. Slave markets have often imitated, but seldom surpassed, the wickedness of which Joseph's brethren were guilty. It was not simply a fellow-creature that they sold, but a brother; and they had not even the poor apology of getting a good bargain, as they sold him for twenty shekels—little over forty shillings!

5. The unforeseen result. Joseph's purchasers conveyed him into Egypt, and sold him, as probably his brethren expected; it is scarcely likely they anticipated he would find his way into so honorable service as that of a high officer of state. But God was taking Joseph thereby a step nearer to his predicted elevation.


1. The ominous symbol. The coat of ends, the token of a father's love for his darling son, the insensate ruffians, after dipping it in blood, caused to be conveyed into their father's presence by the hands of a swift-footed messenger. This was rather a proof of their cowardice than of their consideration for Jacob's feelings.

2. The pretended discovery. The bearer of the blood-stained tunic was directed to say that the brethren had found the robe, and to ask, with expressions of their deep concern, whether or not it was the coat of his beloved son. Their intention we cannot think was to stab their father's heart, but to mislead his judgment.

3. The expected inference. As they designed, the old man concluded that his son was devoured: "Joseph is without doubt rent in pieces." Seldom do villains' plots succeed so well.


1. The bitter grief. The depth and tenderness of Jacob's mourning for his lost son was—

(1) visibly expressed: "he rent his clothes, and put sackcloth on his loins;"

(2) long continued: "he mourned for his son many days;" and, if we accept a proposed reading of the last clause of Genesis 37:35,

(3) lovingly shared: "his father," the blind Isaac, who still survived, "wept for him"—for Rachel's dead child and Jacob's lost son.

2. The ineffectual consolation. "All his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted." For this Jacob was

(1) to be excused, since his comforters were mostly hypocrites, whose proffered consolations must have sounded strangely hollow in his ears; but also

(2) to be blamed, since although God in his providence had taken away Joseph, that was no reason why he should give way to despairing grief. Not so did Abraham when he thought of losing Isaac.


Genesis 37:28

Drawn from the pit.

"And they drew and lifted up Joseph out of the pit." As a compromise Joseph had been thrown into a pit. His brothers at first intended to murder him. Their intention was almost as bad as a murder. The Scriptures tell us that "he that hateth his brother is a murderer." And one writer says, "Many a man who has not taken a brother's life, by indulgence of malevolence, is in the sight of God a more sinful man than many who have expiated their guilt on a scaffold." Joseph only was the gainer in that life was spared. To the brothers deep guilt appertained. They threw him into a pit to perish, thinking possibly to lessen guilt by avoiding the actual shedding of blood.

I. WE MUST EXPECT TO FIND PITFALLS IN LIFE. To Joseph the snare came suddenly. He was forced in. He had acted as he believed rightly in revealing the wicked deeds of his brethren, and he suffers for it. His brothers seize the first opportunity of bringing reprisals upon him for what they considered his officiousness. When alone they seized him. They were ten men to one stripling. Coward brothers! "In with him," they say. In the pit's depth is security, in its dryness speedy death. The pitfalls into which many stumble or into which they are drawn are such as these: circumstances being altogether unfavorable in life; or severe and overpowering temptations to some special sin, as intemperance, passion, or lust; or greed, or ambition, or spiritual pride. Debt, loss of character, and despondency are also deep pitfalls. If we come to love evil for itself, that is a very deep pit, and it adjoins that state which is hopeless. Many are drawn into these pits by carelessness, indifference, and neglect, while others are so entangled by circumstances and conditions of birth that the wonder is that they ever escape.

II. THERE IS OFTEN DELIVERANCE FROM THE DEEPEST PITFALLS. To Joseph it came at the right moment. It came in response to earnest desire. The brothers thought to make a profit by his deliverance, but God was saving him through their avarice and timidity. Joseph was helpless. His brothers had to lift him out. We must feel our helplessness, and then Christ is sure to deliver us from the pit of sin and despair. The brothers of Joseph had low and mercenary aims in lifting up their brother; Jesus is all love and self-sacrifice in the effort to save us. Nothing but the long line of his finished work and fervent love could reach souls. When brought up from the pit we shall not be inclined to praise ourselves. We shall ascribe all the glory to him who "brought us up out of the deep pit and fairy clay, and placed our feet upon a rock, and established our goings."—H.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Genesis 37". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tpc/genesis-37.html. 1897.
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