Genesis 37:28
Then there passed by Midianites merchants; and they drew and lifted up Joseph out of the pit, and sold Joseph to the Ishmeelites for twenty pieces of silver: and they brought Joseph into Egypt.
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(28) Twenty pieces of silver.—Twenty shekels of silver were computed, in Leviticus 27:5, as the average worth of a male slave under twenty. It would be about £2 10s. of our money, but silver was of far greater value then than it is now.

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.

26-28. Judah said, … What profit is it if we slay our brother?—The sight of these travelling merchants gave a sudden turn to the views of the conspirators; for having no wish to commit a greater degree of crime than was necessary for the accomplishment of their end, they readily approved of Judah's suggestion to dispose of their obnoxious brother as a slave. The proposal, of course, was founded on their knowledge that the Arabian merchants trafficked in slaves; and there is the clearest evidence furnished by the monuments of Egypt that the traders who were in the habit of bringing slaves from the countries through which they passed, found a ready market in the cities of the Nile.

they … lifted up Joseph out of the pit, and sold him—Acting impulsively on Judah's advice, they had their poor victim ready by the time the merchants reached them; and money being no part of their object, they sold him for

twenty pieces of silver—The money was probably in rings or pieces (shekels), and silver is always mentioned in the records of that early age before gold, on account of its rarity. The whole sum, if in shekel weight, did not exceed £3.

they brought Joseph into Egypt—There were two routes to Egypt: the one was overland by Hebron, where Jacob dwelt, and by taking which, the fate of his hapless son would likely have reached the paternal ears; the other was directly westward across the country from Dothan to the maritime coast, and in this, the safest and most expeditious way, the merchants carried Joseph to Egypt. Thus did an overruling Providence lead this murderous conclave of brothers, as well as the slave merchants both following their own free courses—to be parties in an act by which He was to work out, in a marvellous manner, the great purposes of His wisdom and goodness towards His ancient Church and people.

This story seems a little involved, and the persons to whom he was sold doubtful. Here seem to be two, if not three, sorts of merchants mentioned,

Ishmeelites and

Midianites here, and Medanites, as it is in the Hebrew, Genesis 37:36, which were a distinct people from the Midianites, as descended from Medan, when the Midianites descended from Midian, both Abraham’s sons, Genesis 25:2. The business may be accommodated divers ways; either,

1. The same persons or people are promiscuously called both Ishmeelites and Midianites, as they also are Judges 8:1,24,28; either because they were mixed together in their dwellings, and by marriages; or because they were here joined together, and made one caravan or company of merchants. And the text may be read thus, And the Midianite merchantmen (either the same who were called Ishmeelites, Genesis 37:27, or others being in the same company with them) passed by, and they (i.e. not the merchantmen, but Joseph’s brethren, spoken of Genesis 37:27; the relative being referred to the remoter antecedent, as it is frequently in the Scripture)

lift up Joseph, and sold him to the Ishmeelites or Midianites, &c. Or,

2. The persons may be distinguished, and the story may very well be conceived thus: The Ishmeelites are going to Egypt, and are discerned at some distance by Joseph’s brethren, while they were discoursing about their brother. In the time of their discourse, the Midianites, who seem to be coming from Egypt, coming by the pit, and hearing Joseph’s cries there, pull him out of the pit, and sell him to the Ishmeelites, who carry him with them into Egypt. There they sell him to the Medanites, though that, as many other historical passages, be omitted in the sacred story. And the Medanites, or Midianites, if you please, only supposing them to be other persons than those mentioned Genesis 37:28, which is but a fair and reasonable supposition, sell him to Potiphar. Then there passed by Midianites, merchantmen,.... The same with the Ishmaelites before mentioned, as appears from the latter part of this verse; for as these were near neighbours, so they might join together in merchandise, and travel in company for greater safety, and are sometimes called the one, and sometimes the other, as well as they might mix together in their habitations and marriages; and are hence called Arabians by the Targums, as before observed, and so by Josephus, which signifies a mixed people:

and they drew and lifted up Joseph out of the pit: not the Midianites, but his brethren:

and sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver; for twenty shekels, which amounted to twenty five shillings of our money. The Jews (z) say, they each took two shekels apiece, and bought with them a pair of shoes, according to Amos 8:6; but there were but nine of them, Reuben was absent:

and they brought Joseph into Egypt; some think these Midianites were different from the Ishmaelites, and that Joseph was sold many times, first to the Midianites, and then by them to the Ishmaelites, and by the latter to Potiphar. Justin (a), an Heathen writer, gives an account of this affair in some agreement with this history;"Joseph (he says) was the youngest of his brethren, whose excellent genius they feared, and took him secretly, and sold him to "foreign merchants", by whom he was carried into Egypt.''

(z) Pirke Eliezer, c. 38. (a) E. Trogo, l. 36. c. 2.

Then there passed by Midianites merchantmen; and they drew and lifted up Joseph out of the pit, and sold Joseph to the {i} Ishmeelites for twenty pieces of silver: and they brought Joseph into Egypt.

(i) Moses writes according to the opinion of those who took the Midianites and Ishmaelites to be one, and here mixes their names: as also appears in Ge 37:36,39:1 or else he was first offered to the Midianites, but sold to the Ishmaelites.

28. Midianites] The first part of this verse resumes E’s narrative from Genesis 37:25. According to E, “Midianites,” merchantmen, pass by, traders from the desert on the east of Jordan. The term is descriptive, and not genealogical: for Midian, like Ishmael, was a son of Abraham (Genesis 25:2). The suggestion that “Midianites” is a name representing the North Arabian Minaeans seems to ignore the Heb. character of the story. The name is without the definite article; it cannot, therefore, refer to “the Ishmaelites” of Genesis 37:27, whose description, though similar, is quite distinct. LXX οἱ Μαδιηναῖοι ἔμποροι. Lat. Madianitae negotiators.

they drew and lifted up] According to E, the Midianites did this, and carried off Joseph, while his brothers were engaged in their meal. According to this account, Joseph was kidnapped, or, as he himself says (Genesis 40:15), “stolen away,” not sold.

28b. and sold] This is from J. Joseph’s brethren, by Judah’s advice, sell him to the Ishmaelites. This clause follows upon Genesis 37:27.

twenty pieces of silver] i.e. shekels, as Genesis 20:16. In Leviticus 27:5; Leviticus 27:20 shekels is the price for a slave between the ages of 5 and 20. 30 shekels is the price for a slave in Exodus 21:32. On the value of a shekel, see Genesis 23:15.Verse 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, ver. 36 - and 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 (Leviticus 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 (ver. 36). Reuben, who was the eldest son, and therefore specially responsible for his younger brother, opposed this murderous proposal. He dissuaded his brethren from killing Joseph (נפשׁ פ הכּה ), and advised them to throw him "into this pit in the desert," i.e., into a dry pit that was near. As Joseph would inevitably perish even in that pit, their malice was satisfied; but Reuben intended to take Joseph out again, and restore him to his father. As soon, therefore, as Joseph arrived, they took off his coat with sleeves and threw him into the pit, which happened to be dry.
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