Genesis 37:25
And they sat down to eat bread: and they lifted up their eyes and looked, and, behold, a company of Ishmeelites came from Gilead with their camels bearing spicery and balm and myrrh, going to carry it down to Egypt.
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(25) A company of Ishmeelites.—Dothan was situated on the great caravan line by which the products of India and Western Asia were brought to Egypt. As the eastern side of Canaan is covered by the great Arabian desert, the caravans had to travel in a north-westernly direction until, having forded the Euphrates, they could strike across from Tadmor to Gilead. The route thence led them over the Jordan at Beisan, and so southward to Egypt. For “Ishmeelites,” we have “Midianites,” Heb., Medyanim, in Genesis 37:28, and Medanites, Heb., Medanim, in Genesis 37:36; but the Targum and the Syriac, instead of Ishmeelites, read Arabs. Midian was a son of Abraham by Keturah, and Ishmael was his son by Hagar. But probably these merchants were descended from neither by blood, but belonged to some branch of the Canaanites, who were the great traders of ancient times, and which Ishmael and Midian had compelled to submit to their sway. (But see Note on Genesis 25:2.) The Jewish interpreters are reduced to great straits in reconciling these names, and even assert that Joseph was sold three times. Really Ishmeelites, Midianites, and Medanites are all one and the same, if we regard them as bearing the names only politically.

It is remarkable that the Egyptians never took part in the carrying trade. Even the navigation of the Red Sea they left to the Phœnicians, Israelites, and Syrians, though Psammetichus, Pharaoh-Necho, and Apries tried to induce the Egyptians to take to maritime pursuits. Their products were corn, stuffs of byssus and other materials, and carpets; but the exportation of these goods they left to foreign traders.

Spicery, and balm, and myrrh.—The first was probably gum tragacanth, though some think that it was storax, the gum of the styrax tree (see Genesis 30:37). “Balm,” that·is, balsam, was probably the resin of the balsamodendron Gileadense, a tree which grows abundantly in Gilead, and of which the gum was greatly in use for healing wounds. “Myrrh” was certainly ladanum, the gum of the cistus rose (cistus creticus). As all these were products of Palestine valued in Egypt, Jacob included them in his present to the governor there (Genesis 43:11).

37:23-30 They threw Joseph into a pit, to perish there with hunger and cold; so cruel were their tender mercies. They slighted him when he was in distress, and were not grieved for the affliction of Joseph, see Am 6:6; for when he was pining in the pit, they sat down to eat bread. They felt no remorse of conscience for the sin. But the wrath of man shall praise God, and the remainder of wrath he will restrain, Ps 76:10. Joseph's brethren were wonderfully restrained from murdering him, and their selling him as wonderfully turned to God's praise.Reuben rips his clothes when he finds Joseph gone. "To eat bread." This shows the cold and heartless cruelty of their deed. "A caravan" - a company of travelling merchants. "Ishmaelites." Ishmael left his father's house when about fourteen or fifteen years of age. His mother took him a wife probably when he was eighteen, or twenty at the furthest. He had arrived at the latter age about one hundred and sixty-two years before the date of the present occurrence. He had twelve sons Genesis 25:13-15, and if we allow only four other generations and a fivefold increase, there will be about fifteen thousand in the fifth generation. "Came from Gilead;" celebrated for its balm Jeremiah 8:22; Jeremiah 46:11. The caravan road from Damascus to Egypt touches upon the land of Gilead, goes through Beth-shean, and passes by Dothan. "Spicery." This gum is called tragacanth, or goats-thorn gum, because it was supposed to be obtained from this plant. "Balm," or balsam; an aromatic substance obtained from a plant of the genus Amyris, a native of Gilead. "Myrrh" is the name of a gum exuding from the balsamodendron myrrha, growing in Arabia Felix. "Lot," however, is supposed to be the resinous juice of the cistus or rock rose, a plant growing in Crete and Syria. Judah, relenting, and revolting perhaps from the crime of fratricide, proposes to sell Joseph to the merchants.

Midianites and Medanites Genesis 37:36 are mere variations apparently of the same name. They seem to have been the actual purchasers, though the caravan takes its name from the Ishmaelites, who formed by far the larger portion of it. Midian and Medan were both sons of Abraham, and during one hundred and twenty-five years must have increased to a small clan. Thus, Joseph is sold to the descendants of Abraham. "Twenty silver pieces;" probably shekels. This is the rate at which Moses estimates a male from five to twenty years old Leviticus 27:5. A man-servant was valued by him at thirty shekels Exodus 21:32. Reuben finding Joseph gone, rends his clothes, in token of anguish of mind for the loss of his brother and the grief of his father.

25. they sat down to eat bread—What a view does this exhibit of those hardened profligates! Their common share in this conspiracy is not the only dismal feature in the story. The rapidity, the almost instantaneous manner in which the proposal was followed by their joint resolution, and the cool indifference, or rather the fiendish satisfaction, with which they sat down to regale themselves, is astonishing. It is impossible that mere envy at his dreams, his gaudy dress, or the doting partiality of their common father, could have goaded them on to such a pitch of frenzied resentment or confirmed them in such consummate wickedness. Their hatred to Joseph must have had a far deeper seat. It must have been produced by dislike to his piety and other excellencies, which made his character and conduct a constant censure upon theirs, and on account of which they found that they could never be at ease till they had rid themselves of his hated presence. This was the true solution of the mystery, just as it was in the case of Cain (1Jo 3:12).

they lifted up their eyes, … and, behold, a company of Ishmaelites—They are called Midianites (Ge 37:28), and Medanites, in Hebrew (Ge 37:36), being a travelling caravan composed of a mixed association of Arabians. Those tribes of Northern Arabia had already addicted themselves to commerce, and long did they enjoy a monopoly, the carrying trade being entirely in their hands. Their approach could easily be seen; for, as their road, after crossing the ford from the trans-jordanic district, led along the south side of the mountains of Gilboa, a party seated on the plain of Dothan could trace them and their string of camels in the distance as they proceeded through the broad and gently sloping valley that intervenes. Trading in the produce of Arabia and India, they were in the regular course of traffic on their way to Egypt: and the chief articles of commerce in which this clan dealt were

spicery from India, that is, a species of resinous gum, called storax, balm—"balm of Gilead," the juice of the balsam tree, a native of Arabia-Felix, and myrrh—an Arabic gum of a strong, fragrant smell. For these articles there must have been an enormous demand in Egypt as they were constantly used in the process of embalming.

They sat down to eat bread, to refresh themselves, their consciences being stupified, and their hearts hardened against their brother, notwithstanding all his most passionate entreaties to them, Genesis 42:21.

Ishmeelites; the posterity of Ishmael. See Genesis 25:18.

Gilead, a famous place for balm, and other excellent commodities, and for the confluence of merchants. See Jeremiah 8:22 22:6.

Balm, or rosin, as the ancient and divers other translators render it.

And they sat down to eat bread,.... Not at all concerned at what they had done, nor in the least grieved for the affliction of Joseph, and without any pity and compassion for him in his distress, but joyful and glad they had got him into their hands, and like to get rid of him for ever:

and they lifted up their eyes, and looked, after they had eaten their food, or while they were eating it:

and, behold, a company of Ishmaelites came from Gilead; a place of merchandise for spices and balm, and such like things after mentioned. The Targums of Onkelos and Jonathan call them Arabians; and the Targum of Jerusalem, Saracens; these were the posterity of Ishmael, who came out of Arabia to Gilead, where they took up their merchandise, at least part of it, and were travelling to Egypt with it, and their way thither lay by Dothan; these travelled in companies, now called "caravans", partly on the account of robbers, and partly by reason of wild beasts, with both which they were sometimes beset in the deserts through which they travelled:

with their camels bearing spicery, and balm, and myrrh; the first word is general according to our version, and others, and signifies various spices, a collection of them; and so Jarchi takes it; but Aquila translates it "storax"; and Bochart (w), by various arguments, seems to have proved, that this is particularly intended; though the Targum of Jonathan renders it "wax" (x); and so other versions: and "balm" is by some taken to be "rosin", since there was no balm or balsam in Gilead, on the other side Jordan, nor indeed any in Judea, until it was brought thither from Arabia Felix, in the times of Solomon; and what we render "myrrh", is in the Hebrew called "lot", and is by some thought to be the same with "laudanum": this their merchandise was carried on camels, very fit for their purpose every way, as they were strong creatures made to carry burdens, and could travel many days without water, which they were sometimes obliged to do in the deserts:

going to carry it down to Egypt; where these things grew not, and were much in use, at least some of them, both in medicines, and in embalming dead bodies, much practised in Egypt; an Arabic writer (y) makes this merchandise to consist of, nuts, turpentine, and oil.

(w) Hierozoic. par. 2. l. 4. c. 12. col. 532. (x) So in Bereshit Rabba & Targum Jerusalem in R. Sol. Urbin. Ohel Moed, fol. 20. 2.((y) Patricides, p. 21. apud Hottinger. Smegma Orient. p. 367, 368.

And they sat down to eat bread: and they lifted up their eyes and looked, and, behold, a company of Ishmaelites came from Gilead with their camels bearing spicery and balm and myrrh, going to carry it down to Egypt.
25. to eat bread] i.e. to take their meal; cf. Genesis 31:54, Genesis 43:25. The E narrative is here interrupted, and is resumed at Genesis 37:28.

25b. a travelling company] “A caravan.” Cf. Job 6:19, “the caravans of Tema, the companies of Sheba”; Isaiah 21:13, “travelling companies of Dedanites.” Dothan lay on the trade route that led from Gilead through the valley of Jezreel towards Egypt.

Ishmaelites] This must be regarded as a descriptive title for bands of traders at the time of the composition of this narrative. Ishmael, according to the P genealogies in Genesis, was Jacob’s uncle; and the sons of Ishmael were cousins of Joseph. Here the title is used almost in the sense of “Bedouin nomads.”

from Gilead] The trade route followed by caravans passed (1) from Gilead on the east of the Jordan, (2) by a ford, across the Jordan, (3) by Beth-Shean or Beisan, down the plain of Jezreel, and so (4) by Lydda and the coast, to Egypt.

spicery] R.V. marg. gum tragacanth, or, storax. “Spicery” is too vague a word. LXX θυμιαμάτων. Lat. aromata. “Tragacanth” is “the resinous gum of the Astragalus gummifer.” “Spice, Old Fr. espice (epice), is derived from species. The mediaeval merchants recognised four ‘kinds’ = species of aromatic trade; hence ‘spice,’ viz. saffron, cloves, cinnamon, nutmegs.” Weekley’s Romance of Words, p. 129 (1912).

balm] R.V. marg. mastic, for which Gilead was famous; cf. Genesis 43:11; Jeremiah 8:22; Jeremiah 46:11; Jeremiah 51:8; Ezekiel 27:17. It was used for incense, and medicinally for wounds. It is said to be the gum of the mastic tree, pistacia lentiscus.

myrrh] R.V. marg. ladanum, a gum obtained from the cistus creticus, or rock-rose. Myrrh, lôt = LXX στακτή (cf. Genesis 43:11), appears is ladunu in Assyrian inscriptions describing tribute from Syria to Tiglath-Pileser IV. The caravan trade with Egypt was evidently largely occupied with materials for the practice of physicians, embalmers, and priests.

Genesis 37:25Reuben had saved Joseph's life indeed by his proposal; but his intention to send him back to his father was frustrated. For as soon as the brethren sat down to eat, after the deed was performed, they saw a company of Ishmaelites from Gilead coming along the road which leads from Beisan past Jenin (Rob. Pal. iii. 155) and through the plain of Dothan to the great caravan road that runs from Damascus by Lejun (Legio, Megiddo), Ramleh, and Gaza to Egypt (Rob. iii. 27, 178). The caravan drew near, laden with spices: viz., נכאת, gum-tragacanth; צרי, balsam, for which Gilead was celebrated (Genesis 43:11; Jeremiah 8:22; Jeremiah 46:11); and לט, ladanum, the fragrant resin of the cistus-rose. Judah seized the opportunity to propose to his brethren to sell Joseph to the Ishmaelites. "What profit have we," he said, "that we slay our brother and conceal his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites; and our hand, let it not lay hold of him (sc., to slay him), for he is our brother, our flesh." Reuben wished to deliver Joseph entirely from his brothers' malice. Judah also wished to save his life, though not from brotherly love so much as from the feeling of horror, which was not quite extinct within him, at incurring the guilt of fratricide; but he would still like to get rid of him, that his dreams might not come true. Judah, like his brethren, was probably afraid that their father might confer upon Joseph the rights of the first-born, and so make him lord over them. His proposal was a welcome one. When the Arabs passed by, the brethren fetched Joseph out of the pit and sold him to the Ishmaelites, who took him into Egypt. The different names given to the traders - viz., Ishmaelites (Genesis 37:25, Genesis 37:27, and Genesis 37:28), Midianites (Genesis 37:28), and Medanites (Genesis 37:36) - do not show that the account has been drawn from different legends, but that these tribes were often confounded, from the fact that they resembled one another so closely, not only in their common descent from Abraham (Genesis 16:15 and Genesis 25:2), but also in the similarity of their mode of life and their constant change of abode, that strangers could hardly distinguish them, especially when they appeared not as tribes but as Arabian merchants, such as they are here described as being: "Midianitish men, merchants." That descendants of Abraham should already be met with in this capacity is by no means strange, if we consider that 150 years had passed by since Ishmael's dismissal from his father's house, - a period amply sufficient for his descendants to have grown through marriage into a respectable tribe. The price, "twenty (sc., shekels) of silver," was the price which Moses afterwards fixed as the value of a boy between 5 and 20 (Leviticus 27:5), the average price of a slave being 30 shekels (Exodus 21:32). But the Ishmaelites naturally wanted to make money by the transaction.
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