1Jacob lived in the land where his father had stayed, the land of Canaan.
2This is the account of Jacob.
Joseph, a young man of seventeen, was tending the flocks with his brothers, the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father's wives, and he brought their father a bad report about them.
3Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age; and he made a richly ornamented robe for him. 4When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.
5Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more. 6He said to them, "Listen to this dream I had: 7We were binding sheaves of corn out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered round mine and bowed down to it."
8His brothers said to him, "Do you intend to reign over us? Will you actually rule us?" And they hated him all the more because of his dream and what he had said.
9Then he had another dream, and he told it to his brothers. "Listen," he said, "I had another dream, and this time the sun and moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me."
10When he told his father as well as his brothers, his father rebuked him and said, "What is this dream you had? Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow down to the ground before you?" 11His brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind.
12Now his brothers had gone to graze their father's flocks near Shechem, 13and Israel said to Joseph, "As you know, your brothers are grazing the flocks near Shechem. Come, I am going to send you to them."
"Very well," he replied.
14So he said to him, "Go and see if all is well with your brothers and with the flocks, and bring word back to me." Then he sent him off from the Valley of Hebron.
When Joseph arrived at Shechem, 15a man found him wandering around in the fields and asked him, "What are you looking for?"
16He replied, "I'm looking for my brothers. Can you tell me where they are grazing their flocks?"
17"They have moved on from here," the man answered. "I heard them say, `Let's go to Dothan.'"
So Joseph went after his brothers and found them near Dothan. 18But they saw him in the distance, and before he reached them, they plotted to kill him.
19"Here comes that dreamer!" they said to each other. 20"Come now, let's kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him. Then we'll see what comes of his dreams."
21When Reuben heard this, he tried to rescue him from their hands. "Let's not take his life," he said. 22"Don't shed any blood. Throw him into this cistern here in the desert, but don't lay a hand on him." Reuben said this to rescue him from them and take him back to his father.
23So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe--the richly ornamented robe he was wearing-- 24and they took him and threw him into the cistern. Now the cistern was empty; there was no water in it.
25As they sat down to eat their meal, they looked up and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead. Their camels were loaded with spices, balm and myrrh, and they were on their way to take them down to Egypt.
26Judah said to his brothers, "What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? 27Come, let's sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him; after all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood." His brothers agreed.
28So when the Midianite merchants came by, his brothers pulled Joseph up out of the cistern and sold him for twenty shekels of silver to the Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt.
29When Reuben returned to the cistern and saw that Joseph was not there, he tore his clothes. 30He went back to his brothers and said, "The boy isn't there! Where can I turn now?"
31Then they got Joseph's robe, slaughtered a goat and dipped the robe in the blood. 32They took the ornamented robe back to their father and said, "We found this. Examine it to see whether it is your son's robe."
33He recognized it and said, "It is my son's robe! Some ferocious animal has devoured him. Joseph has surely been torn to pieces."
34Then Jacob tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and mourned for his son many days. 35All his sons and daughters came to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. "No," he said, "in mourning will I go down to the grave to my son." So his father wept for him.
36Meanwhile, the Midianites sold Joseph in Egypt to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh's officials, the captain of the guard.
Having just enumerated the descendants of Esau at the end of Genesis 36, Moses returns here to focus on Jacob's family, never again to mention Esau. This is the pattern of the Bible. The huge family tree of humanity is pruned to focus upon the chosen line of God. In Genesis, Moses signals such a pruning with the words "This is the account of..." (see Gen. 5:1; 6:9; 10:1; 11:10; 11:27; 25:12; 25:19). Here, in order to focus solely on Jacob's family, Moses begins: "This is the account of Jacob" (vs. 2). The remainder of the book of Genesis will be concerned with Jacob's sons, and Joseph will emerge as the main character in the story of Jacob's sons. Historically, Joseph is a very important personage because through the events of his life, the nation of Israel is brought to Egypt. Theologically, Joseph is also very important because through his life, we see how God works providentially to bring about His purposes. Moreover, Joseph presents to us a very powerful example of faith through testings and trials. He never gives up hope, but always trusts that God is working to bring about His will. Even in the direst of circumstances, Joseph always sees God's hand of providence and protection.
"Joseph, a young man of seventeen, was tending the flocks with his brothers, the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father's wives, and he brought their father a bad report about them" (vs. 2). Recall that Joseph was Jacob's eleventh son, but was the first son of Jacob's most beloved wife Rachel. The fact that Jacob had sons by four different wives must have caused strife in the family. We have seen that there was a certain amount of strife between the wives during their child bearing years (see Gen. 29:31-30:43). There is reason to believe that this strife carried over to the sons. It seems that the sons of the same wives stuck together. For instance, in Genesis 34, the sons of Leah spearheaded the attack on Shechem. Here, we have "the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah" making mischief while tending Jacob's flock, so Joseph "brought their father a bad report about them" (vs. 2).
There are mixed feelings about Joseph bringing the "bad report" to his father. Was Joseph bringing the "bad report" to increase his father's estimation of him ("tattling", as it were)? Or was Joseph behaving righteously in reporting the evil behavior of his brothers? There is not enough in the text to reveal Joseph's motives, but we are told directly: "Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age" (vs. 3). Jacob favored Joseph of all his sons. Certainly what we know of Joseph's elder brothers would not lend Jacob to favor any of them but Joseph. Sadly, Jacob did not hide his favoritism of Joseph: "He made a richly ornamented robe for him" (vs. 3). Some commentators think that the robe that Jacob gave Joseph denoted that Joseph was to receive the birthright. In any case, Jacob's failure to hide his favoritism caused strife in the family: "When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him" (vs. 4).
This is the latest in a long line of failures that Jacob has had as the head of his household. First, rather than stemming the rivalry that Rachel and Leah had concerning offspring, he reinforced it by agreeing to sleep with their handmaids Bilhah and Zilpah (Gen. 30:3ff). Later, he allowed his young daughter Dinah too much freedom in wandering in Shechem (which led to her being seduced). Then, he did not show leadership in dealing with the aftermath of Dinah's seduction, but allowed his sons to take matters in their own hands (see Gen. 34). In fact, Jacob seemed to give his sons free rein in whatever they did. He never was a strong leader of righteousness for his family (he even seemed to turn a blind eye when Reuben his son slept with Rachel's handmaid Bilhah, see Gen. 35:22). Throughout much of this time, he tolerated idolatry in his household, mainly because his beloved wife Rachel practiced it (Jacob finally purged his household of idolatry in Gen. 35:2). Rather than being an example of righteous leadership to his family, Jacob was (for the most part) an example of a conniver, often practicing deceit in his dealings with others. Jacob's lack of strong, godly leadership in his family led to many troubles: his daughter Dinah (as mentioned) was seduced; his sons led an evil, brutal attack and killed many innocent people in Shechem; one of his sons committed incest in sleeping with his step-mother; and then here in this chapter, all the evil culminates in ten of the brothers conspiring to kill their young brother. All this is said to point out how important it is for men to be strong, godly leaders in their families. To be a strong, godly leader of a family is much more difficult than being a lax, lazy father. But as we have seen in Jacob's life, to be lax and lazy as a parent can have tragic results.
"Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more. He said to them, `Listen to this dream I had: We were binding sheaves of corn out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered round mine and bowed down to it'" (vss. 5-7). God blessed Joseph by giving him a prophetic dream. We know that the dream is prophetic because we can read later that the dream is fulfilled (see Gen. 42:6). As we shall see, to get to the point where the dream is fulfilled, Joseph will have to face much affliction. And so, we can infer that one of the reasons that God revealed this prophetic dream to Joseph was so that he (and we) would know in the end that God was in control of the situation all of the time. Throughout all of the coming trials that Joseph faces, God is working the events according to His will, and also ultimately to the benefit of Joseph and his family.
Joseph's brothers must have had a sense that Joseph's dream was prophetic, for they were angry when they heard it: "His brothers said to him, `Do you intend to reign over us? Will you actually rule us?' And they hated him all the more because of his dream and what he had said" (vs. 8). Now I ask, why did Joseph tell his brothers of the dream? This is the second time that we have read that Joseph's loose lips have increased his brother's hatred of him (cf. vs. 2). It seems to me that boastful pride led Joseph to tell his brothers of the dream. Joseph was boastfully proud that God was going to exalt him over his brothers. Look again at what he says: "...suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered round mine and bowed down to it." Boastful pride in our gifts and abilities, even gifts and abilities given to us by God, is sinful, serving to put others down. Joseph would have done much better to do what Mary (the mother of Jesus) did with the gifts God gave her: "Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart" (Luke 2:19).
As if to confirm the validity of the dream, God gave Joseph yet another dream, and again he "told it to his brothers": "I had another dream, and this time the sun and moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me" (vs. 9). Even Jacob was upset at this dream: "His father rebuked him and said: `What is this dream you had? Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow down to the ground before you?'" (vs. 10). Though initially angry, the godly Jacob recognized the importance of the dreams, for, rather than remaining angry (as Joseph's brothers did), Jacob pondered the dreams and "kept the matter in mind" (vs. 11). Again, the brothers must have also realized that the dreams were prophetic for they were "jealous" of Joseph. They would not have been "jealous" if they had not believed that Joseph indeed would reign over them.
Some time later, "[Joseph's] brothers had gone to graze their father's flocks near Shechem, and Israel said to Joseph, `As you know, your brothers are grazing the flocks near Shechem. Come, I am going to send you to them.' `Very well,' he replied. So he said to him, `Go and see if all is well with your brothers and with the flocks, and bring word back to me.' Then he sent him off from the Valley of Hebron" (vss.12-14). Jacob, showing fatherly concern for his sons, decides to send Joseph to "see if all is well" with them. Here we have Joseph as an interesting type of Jesus. We have a son sent by his father to hostile brothers. John speaks of Jesus: "He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him" (John 1:11). Also, Joseph's mission was not to check up on his brothers to see if they were making some sort of mischief, but rather to check up on them to "see if all is well". Similarly, Jesus did not come in judgment, but came for our well-being. As Jesus Himself taught: "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him" (John 3:17).
Joseph's brothers were not in Shechem, but had moved on to Dothan (see vss. 15-17), a few miles away. Joseph was faithful to his mission and continued on to look for his brothers. "But they saw him in the distance, and before he reached them, they plotted to kill him" (vs. 18). There is hardly a more tragic plot presented in literature than when brother kills brother. In literature, often, the tragedy comes about through unusual circumstances and a brother unwittingly kills his brother. Here we have eight brothers purposely plotting to kill a younger, innocent brother. And wait. Are not these brothers the chosen people of God? Are they not to be the heads of the twelve tribes of Israel? It is a testimony to the truth of the Bible that it reports the bad as well as the good concerning God's chosen people.
It seems that it was primarily Joseph's dreams that spurred the brothers on to kill him: "`Here comes that dreamer!' they said to each other. `Come now, let's kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him. Then we'll see what comes of his dreams.'" (vss. 19-20). It is significant that it was the dreams that incited the brothers to kill. This means that the brothers were not only killing their brother, but they were fighting against God. We have pointed out already that the brothers believed that Joseph's dreams were prophetic. So here, by killing Jacob, the brothers were trying to quash the prophecy. It is foolish to fight against God. God's will was to be done, in spite of the brothers' actions.
Not all of the brothers wanted to kill Joseph: "When Reuben heard this, he tried to rescue him from their hands. `Let's not take his life,' he said. `Don't shed any blood. Throw him into this cistern here in the desert, but don't lay a hand on him.' Reuben said this to rescue him from them and take him back to his father." (vss. 21-22). Reuben had the moral strength to be against killing Joseph. He convinced his brothers to throw Joseph in the cistern without first shedding his blood. The brothers went along with this plan because (I guess) they felt (incorrectly) that they would be under less guilt if the elements killed him rather than their hands. Though Reuben had moral strength, he did not have moral courage. He did not have the courage to stand up to his brothers. He merely tricked them into not killing Joseph right away so that he could rescue him later. We should strive for moral strength, but also for moral courage. We should desire to do right, but also stand up for right in the face of evil, trusting in the Lord to support us in our moral stand.
At this time, the brothers "sat down to eat their meal" (vs. 25). This shows the hardness of the brothers hearts. They were still within earshot of Joseph in the cistern. We learn later that Joseph was pleading for his life (see Gen. 42:21). Yet, they could calmly sit down and eat their meal.
Judah, it appears, was having second thoughts. "Judah said to his brothers, `What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? Come, let's sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him; after all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood.' His brothers agreed" (vss. 26-27). They agree to sell Joseph as a slave to the Ishmaelites (who were traveling with the Midianites) so as to gain something from getting rid of him. Interestingly (and possibly typologically), it was Judah (the Old Testament form of the name "Judas") who sold his brother for twenty shekels of silver.
By selling Joseph, the brothers foiled Reuben's plan of rescuing Joseph. Reuben apparently left his brothers after Joseph was thrown into the cistern so as to have an opportunity to return and rescue him. "When Reuben returned to the cistern and saw that Joseph was not there, he tore his clothes" (vs. 29).
The brothers took Joseph's robe, "slaughtered a goat and dipped the robe in the blood. They took the ornamented robe back to their father and said, `We found this. Examine it to see whether it is your son's robe'" (vss. 31-32). There is much irony here. Jacob, who many years before killed a goat to deceive his father Isaac (see Gen. 27:9,14), is deceived by his own sons with a slaughtered goat. Surely, it is true, "a man reaps what he sows" (Gal. 6:7).
Jacob, needless to say, is greatly distressed at the apparent death of his favored son (vss. 34-35). One wonders why not one of the brothers had the moral strength to tell his father what really happened. Jacob surely would have had the resources to buy Joseph back from the Midianites. But they all kept silent, and "the Midianites sold Joseph in Egypt to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh's officials, the captain of the guard" (vs. 36).