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 spices and balm and myrrh, going to carry it down to Egypt.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)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).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.
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 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.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.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)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.
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