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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Genesis 37

Verse 1

1. In the land wherein his father was a stranger Rather, in the land of the sojournings of his father . This verse serves to acquaint us with the location of Jacob at this period of his history . It marks the transition between the generations of Esau and Jacob . Esau had now departed (according to Genesis 36:6) to the land which was to become known as the land of Edom, and Jacob is recognised as the true successor in the inheritance of his father .

Verse 2

2. Seventeen years old Or, according to the Hebrew idiom, a son of seventeen years . The historian (according to his usual custom noticed in the earlier parts of Genesis) goes back a little, and commences his new section at a point previous to Isaac’s death . Comp . Genesis 35:27, note .

The lad was with the sons Hebrews, and he a lad, with the sons of Bilhah . Some understand this to mean that he was a lad along with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah; that is, he was nearer their age than the ages of the sons of Leah, and hence fed the flocks along with them . Others construe the words with the sons of Bilhah, etc . , with feeding the flock, and understand that, as he was too young to be trusted alone, he fed the flock in company with these older brothers; perhaps, says Newhall, “because the sons of the concubines agreed with him better than did the sons of Leah . ” But a strict rendering of the whole verse is best made by throwing the words and he a lad in parenthesis, and construing the words sons of Bilhah, etc . , as appositional and epexegetical of his brethren, thus: Joseph, a son of seventeen years, was (in the habit of) shepherding his brethren in the flock, ( and he a mere lad,) even the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, wives of his father . That is, Joseph, when only seventeen, a mere boy, was in the habit of taking care of his brothers as if he were their shepherd; especially did he thus attend to the sons of the concubines . This seems to have been his first offence . The next was, his reporting to his father what was said of them; then his father’s partiality, shown in the costly garment, and, finally, his various dreams .

Their evil report Rather, “ an evil report concerning them, which he had heard from the inhabitants in the neighbourhood of the pasture ground, (Knobel, Lewis,) not their evil report, as A.V., which would require the article with the adjective; not any definite crime, not evil words which his brethren had said about him (Kimchi;) the phrase is purposely indefinite, and refers to a floating rumour which affected the character of his brethren.” (Delitzsch.) Newhall.

Verse 3

3. Israel loved Joseph more… because he was the son of his old age. “The ancient Jewish interpreters do not consider this as describing the parental partiality for the latest born, but render, because he was a wise son. (Onk.) Maimonides says, that as late-born he stayed at home, and was his father’s stay, the nourisher of his age, a careful son, whom Jacob thus naturally loved with special affection. So Fagius, Bush, Lewis. And he made him a coat of many colours, (figured or variegated, Samuel, Sept., Vulg., Targ.,) or, more likely, a sleeved tunic reaching to the ankles, such as was worn by persons not much engaged in manual labour, the ordinary Oriental tunic being, like a loose shirt, girded about the waist, without sleeves, and reaching to the knees. So Gesen., Knobel, Del. after Sym., and Aquila. Lewis understands it to mean a tunic with spots, stripes, or fringes; so A. Clarke, who compares it with the striped and fringed toga of the Roman youth. This dress was intended as a badge of distinction, as rank has always thus been indicated in Oriental countries. Probably it was the badge of the birthright (Bush) which Reuben had forfeited, (1 Chronicles 5:1,) and which was transferred to the eldest son of the favourite Rachel. Jacob very unwisely makes his preference thus conspicuous, and thus subjects the virtue of his favourite son to a test most painful and severe.” Newhall.

Verse 4

4. Could not speak peaceably “Hebrews, could not bid peace to him; could not greet him with the ordinary salutation, ‘Shalom,’ ‘Peace be unto thee . ’ It may be that Joseph was unwise and unkind to accept this distinction, and to report to his father evil rumours concerning his brethren; but we are hardly to expect that he, a child, would set up his judgment against that of his father, and he everywhere appears as a frank and guileless child.” Newhall.

Verse 5

5. And Joseph dreamed a dream, and he told it his brethren “In normal sleep there is inactivity of the senses, and consequently of the powers of perception by the senses, (presentative powers,) as well as of continuous and rational thought, while there may, at the same time, be activity of memory and imagination, (representative powers,) reproducing and fantastically combining the waking thoughts, thus causing dreams . Our lower as well as higher powers the sleeping as well as the waking mind may become the vehicle of divine revelation . Yet the Scriptures refer to the revelations received in sleep as if inferior in grade and character to those which involve the higher faculties of perception, understanding, and reason. It is in dreams that God reveals himself to the heathen, (Abimelech, Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar,) but to the seers of the chosen people only, as a general rule, in the prophet’s preparatory or rudimentary period. See Blackie’s Iliad, iv, p. 12. These accounts cannot fairly lead us to consider our mental operations in sleep as any more supernaturally guided than those of our waking hours. Neither can have prophetic authority unless inspired.” Newhall.

Verses 7-9

7-9. Sheaves… stars “The two dreams very obviously shadow forth Joseph as having kingly authority over his father, mother, and brethren . The scene of the first is laid in the wheat field, where he and his brethren are symbolized by the sheaves . But to repeat and solemnly deepen the impression, the scene of the second is laid in heaven, and now not only his brethren, but his father and mother, (Leah probably, since Rachel was dead,) under heavenly symbols bow down, not to his star, but to him .

How powerfully must this dream have returned to the minds of them all, when, more than twenty years after, the venerable patriarch and his eleven sons did obeisance to the prince of Egypt, who said to them, ‘I am Joseph.’” Newhall. On the import of double dreams, see note on chap.

41:32.

Verse 11

11. But his father observed the saying “So strange and mysterious . So Mary ‘pondered’ and ‘kept in her heart’ the strange sayings of Jesus, which others understood not . Luke 2:50-51. ” Newhall .

Verses 12-13

JOSEPH SOLD INTO EGYPT, Genesis 37:12-36.

13. Thy brethren… in Shechem Jacob owned a tract of land near this city, which he purchased of the prince of that country . See Genesis 33:19. The number and extent of their flocks made it necessary for the sons of Jacob to be much scattered abroad in order to find pasturage. Probably on their removal from Shechem, (Genesis 35:1,) they left some of their flocks there, and in view of the desperate acts of Simeon and Levi (Genesis 34:25) Jacob may now have feared for his sons at Shechem: and been anxious to hear from them .

Verse 15

15. Wandering in the field Wandering about the field that belonged to his father at Shechem . The fact of his going alone and unattended from Hebron to Shechem and beyond, shows the quiet and peace that prevailed in the land at that time .

Verse 17

17. To Dothan “About seventeen miles farther north . Dothan, or Dothaim, ( two wells,) is situated just south of the great plain of Esdraelon, from which it is separated only by two or three low swells of ground, the name being still attached to a fine green knoll, from the base of which springs a fountain . The pasturage being exhausted in the valley of Shechem, the shepherds had moved northwards to richer grazing grounds, on the margin of the great plain that has always been the granary of Palestine.” Newhall.

Verse 19

19. This dreamer Heb, this master (or lord) of the dreams . We may suppose Joseph seeing them afar with joy, glad to find them after his long journey and searching . But they see him with malicious envy .

Verse 20

20. Let us slay him Here we note the dark and brutal passions to which they had yielded under the power of jealousy and envy . They now show themselves fit for foulest deeds and blackest falsehoods .

Verse 21

21. Reuben He whom we might expect to be most offended by the princely garment (Genesis 37:3, note) is the readiest to show him favour .

Delivered him out of their hands Prevented his being slain, and purposed, as the next verse shows, to deliver him to his father again .

Verse 22

22. This pit that is in the wilderness By the wilderness here we are to understand the open, unsettled country in which they were pasturing their flocks . “The country abounded, and still abounds, in pits or cisterns dug in the ground, or soft limestone, to preserve water through the dry season, and also to store grain . They were made large at the bottom, with a small mouth at the top, sometimes tapering upwards, like a huge demijohn. (Thomson.) The top was covered with a flat stone, over which sand or earth was often spread for concealment. When dry there was generally mud at the bottom. They were often used as dungeons for criminals. See Jeremiah 38:6. Perhaps they put him into the pit, deliberately intending to leave him there to perish; but it seems more likely that they did this as a temporary imprisonment, without having definitely determined what final disposition to make of Joseph . Reuben succeeds in effecting a stay of the murderous proceedings of his brethren . Judah’s proposition in Genesis 37:26, shows that his fate was under discussion as they ‘sat down to eat bread.’” Newhall.

Verse 23

23. Stripped Joseph He wore the garment which gave so much offence, (Genesis 37:3,) and this, first of all, they tore savagely away from him .

Verse 25

25. Sat down to eat This remark reveals their heartless cruelty most vividly . Reuben was not a partaker of that meal; but off, probably, devising measures for the rescue of his brother .

Verse 28

28. Sold Joseph… for twenty pieces of silver “The future deliverer of Israel is sold as a slave . One of the great caravan routes from Damascus through the land of Gilead to Egypt, by the way of the maritime plain, Ramleh and Gaza, ran near the pasture ground, and a side route from the East, crossing the fords of the Jordan opposite Bethshan, passed through the valley of Jezreel, and turning southwest, crossed the pastures of Dothan, joining the main route south of the point where it descends from Carmel . Had the caravan been moving to Egypt by the easterly route, through Hebron, past Jacob’s tents, Joseph’s brethren would not have dared to sell him . The Ishmaelites, (descendants of Ishmael, Abraham’s son by Hagar,) called Arabians in the Chaldee, and Midianites, (descendants of Midian, Abraham’s son by Keturah,) were mingled in the same caravan, the ‘east Abrahamic peoples,’ who now as then are sons of the desert, going down to Egypt with the spices and gums of Arabia and India . The caravan was laden with precious gums, for which there was always a market in Egypt, created to a great extent, probably, by the demand for such articles in embalming . The word rendered spicery (Genesis 37:25) most probably is gum-tragacanth; balm is the precious aromatic balsam for which Gilead was famous, distilling from a shrub for which the plain of Jericho was once celebrated, and now found in the gardens of Tiberias, while the substance, incorrectly rendered in A.V. myrrh, is the odorous greenish resin ladanum, which exudes from the branches of the cistus, a shrub of the rock-rose family, with white or rose-coloured flowers. Judah, influenced by compassion, with which probably cupidity was mingled, proposes to sell Joseph as a slave, rather than take his life. This is the first historic instance of the sale of a man, though slavery is, probably, as ancient as war, being a substitute for the murder of captives. ‘And they sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites for twenty (shekels of) silver,’ that is, about ten ounces of silver in weight, about twelve dollars and a half at the present valuation!” Newhall.

Verse 30

30. Whither shall I go “It is a cry of distracting anxiety, which sounds touchingly mournful and pathetic in the Hebrew, from the repetition and alliteration . Reuben afterwards reminds his brethren, in the day of their distress, of the earnestness with which he had pleaded for Joseph . Genesis 42:22. Only Reuben and Judah show any trace of humanity in this dark transaction, and they seem, on their return to their father, to be bound by the ban of silence . It is Reuben and Judah, also, that are afterwards foremost to take responsibility, and bear the blame, when they all stand before Joseph the judge. Chapters 42 and 44.” Newhall.

Verse 32

32. Thy son’s coat Not our brother’s! Every word of theirs in this dark pretext is studiously cruel .

Verse 33

33. My son’s coat Jacob’s words are most touching . Render:

Tunic of my son!

An evil beast has eaten him!

Torn, torn, Joseph!

Verse 35

35. His daughters “His sons’ wives, or possibly he may have had daughters besides Dinah, which are not mentioned by name . ‘And he said, (I will not be comforted,) for I will go down to my son, mourning, to Sheol . ’ This is the first place in which the word Sheol occurs, which means the place or state of the dead . It is derived by Gesenius from a word meaning to dig, that is, the grave, but has been usually derived from a verb meaning to ask, or demand, the craving grave . Lewis, however, understands the word to express the inquiring wonder with which we ask for the dead, the eager listening at the gates of death . So the Greek word Hades, the unseen, (Sept . translation of Sheol,) sets forth the same world as sealed to the sense of sight. ‘In the one, it is the eye peering into the dark; in the other it is the ear intently listening to the silence. Both give rise to the same question, Where is he? whither has he gone? and both seem to imply with equal emphasis that the one unseen and unheard yet really is.’ Jacob did not expect that his body would lie with Joseph’s in the same grave, for he thought that an ‘evil beast had devoured him,’ yet he expected to go to his son.” Newhall.

Verse 36

36. Potiphar “A eunuch of Pharaoh: this is the primary meaning, although the word came afterwards to mean officer in general, since the officers about the royal person were usually eunuchs .

Captain of the guard Rendered literally in the margin, ‘chief of the executioners, chief marshall,’ an appropriate title for the officer who executed the arbitrary and summary sentences of the Pharaohs.” Newhall.

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Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Genesis 37". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/genesis-37.html. 1874-1909.