Genesis 37:36
And the Midianites sold him into Egypt to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh's, and captain of the guard.
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(36) Midianites.—Heb., Medanites. (See Note on Genesis 37:25.)

Potiphar.—Three chief interpretations are given of this name The first explains it by two Coptic words, according to which it would signify “father of the king.” This would make it an official name equivalent to prime minister or vizier. Gesenius considers it to be the same name as Potipherah (Genesis 41:50), and explains it as meaning “consecrated to Ra,” that is, the sun-god. Thirdly, Canon Cook, in the “Excursus on Egyptian Words,” at the end of Vol. I. of The Speaker’s Commentary, argues with much cogency, that it means “father of the palace.” This again would be an official name.

An officer.—Though this word literally in Hebrew signifies an eunuch, yet either, as seems probable from other places, it had come to mean any officer of the palace, or Potiphar was chief of the eunuchs, and therefore is himself numbered among them.

Captain of the guard.—Heb., chief of the slaughterers, by which the LXX. understand the slaughterers of animals for food, and translate “chief cook.” The other versions understand by it the commander of the king’s body-guard, whose business it would be to execute condemned criminals. A comparison with 2Kings 25:8, where the same title is given to Nebuzar-adan, proves that this interpretation is correct.

37:31-36 When Satan has taught men to commit one sin, he teaches them to try to conceal it with another; to hide theft and murder, with lying and false oaths: but he that covers his sin shall not prosper long. Joseph's brethren kept their own and one another's counsel for some time; but their villany came to light at last, and it is here published to the world. To grieve their father, they sent him Joseph's coat of colours; and he hastily thought, on seeing the bloody coat, that Joseph was rent in pieces. Let those that know the heart of a parent, suppose the agony of poor Jacob. His sons basely pretended to comfort him, but miserable, hypocritical comforters were they all. Had they really desired to comfort him, they might at once have done it, by telling the truth. The heart is strangely hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. Jacob refused to be comforted. Great affection to any creature prepares for so much the greater affliction, when it is taken from us, or made bitter to us: undue love commonly ends in undue grief. It is the wisdom of parents not to bring up children delicately, they know not to what hardships they may be brought before they die. From the whole of this chapter we see with wonder the ways of Providence. The malignant brothers seem to have gotten their ends; the merchants, who care not what they deal in so that they gain, have also obtained theirs; and Potiphar, having got a fine young slave, has obtained his! But God's designs are, by these means, in train for execution. This event shall end in Israel's going down to Egypt; that ends in their deliverance by Moses; that in setting up the true religion in the world; and that in the spread of it among all nations by the gospel. Thus the wrath of man shall praise the Lord, and the remainder thereof will he restrain.The brothers contrive to conceal their crime; and Joseph is sold into Egypt. "Torn, torn in pieces is Joseph." The sight of the bloody coat convinces Jacob at once that Joseph has been devoured by a wild beast. "All his daughters." Only one daughter of Jacob is mentioned by name. These are probably his daughters-in-law. "To the grave." Sheol is the place to which the soul departs at death. It is so called from its ever craving, or being empty. "Minister." This word originally means eunuch, and then, generally, any officer about the court or person of the sovereign. "Captain of the guards." The guards are the executioners of the sentences passed by the sovereign on culprits, which were often arbitrary, summary, and extremely severe. It is manifest, from this dark chapter, that the power of sin has not been extinguished in the family of Jacob. The name of God does not appear, and his hand is at present only dimly seen among the wicked designs, deeds, and devices of these unnatural brothers. Nevertheless, his counsel of mercy standeth sure, and fixed is his purpose to bring salvation to the whole race of man, by means of his special covenant with Abraham.

- The Family of Judah

1. עדלם ‛ǎdûllâm, 'Adullam, "righteousness." חירה chı̂yrâh Chirah, "nobility?"

2. שׁוּע shûa‛, Shua', "luck, riches, cry."

3. ער ‛êr, 'Er, "watching."

4. אונן 'ônân, Onan, "strong."

5. שׁלה shēlâh, Shelah, "request? rest." כזיב kezı̂yb Kezib, "falsehood."

6. תמר tāmār, Tamar, "palm."

12. תמנה tı̂mnâh, Timnah, "counted or assigned."

14. עינים 'êynayı̂m, 'Enaim, "two fountains."

29. פרץ perets, Perets, "breach."

This strange narrative is an episode in the history of Joseph; but an integral part of the "generations" of Jacob. It is loosely dated with the phrase "at that time." This does not indicate a sequel to the preceding record, the proper phrase for which is "after these things" (האלה חדברים אחר 'achar hadebārı̂ym hâ'ēleh Genesis 22:1). It implies rather a train of events that commenced at least in the past, some time before the closing incident of the previous narrative Genesis 21:22. But the sale of Joseph, which alone is recorded in the last chapter, only occupied some few weeks or months of a year. Hence, the circumstances contained in this memoir of Judah's family must have taken their rise before that event. The date "at that time," is rendered indefinite also by being attached to the phrase, "And it came to pass," which covers at least all the events in the first eleven verses of the chapter.

All this is in accordance with the customary mode of arranging parallel lines of events in Hebrew narrative. We shall see reason afterward for placing the birth of Er at as early a date as possible in the life of Judah Genesis 46:12. Now Judah, we conceive, was born when his father was eighty-seven, and Joseph when he was ninety-one, and hence, there is a difference about four years in their ages. We suppose Er to have been born in Judah's fourteenth year, when Joseph and Dinah were in their tenth, and therefore, about three years before the rape of Dinah, and shortly after Jacob arrived at the town of Shekem. The dishonor of Dinah, and the cruel treatment of Joseph, being of essential moment in the process of things, had to be recorded in the main line of events. The commencement of Judah's family, having no particular influence on the current of the history, is fitly reserved until the whole of the circumstances could be brought together into a connected narrative. And the private history of Judah's line is given, while that of the others is omitted, simply because from him the promised seed is descended. As soon as Jacob is settled in the promised land, the contact with Hebron and its neighborhood seems to have commenced. A clear proof of this is the presence of Deborah, Rebekah's nurse, in Jacob's family Genesis 35:8. The great thoroughfare from Damascus to Egypt runs through Shekem and Hebron, and we know that when Jacob was residing at Hebron, his sons fed their flocks at Shekem and Dothan, and the youthful Joseph was sent to inquire after their welfare.

35. and he said, For I will go down into the grave unto my son—not the earth, for Joseph was supposed to be torn in pieces, but the unknown place—the place of departed souls, where Jacob expected at death to meet his beloved son. Whose office it was to apprehend and punish criminal persons. See Genesis 40:3 Jeremiah 39:9 Mark 6:27. And the Midianites sold him into Egypt,.... Or Medanites, who sprung from Medan, a brother of Midian, and son of Keturah, Genesis 24:2; and were distinct from the Midianites, though they dwelt near them, and were now in company with them, and with the Ishmaelites, and were all concerned in the buying and selling of Joseph, and therefore this is sometimes ascribed to the one, and sometimes to the other:

unto Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh; the word is sometimes used for an eunuch, but cannot design one here, since Potiphar had a wife, and some say a child; but he either was a chamberlain, or however some officer at court, besides what follows:

and captain of the guard; of Pharoah's guard, his bodyguard; some render it, "of the slaughterers" (h); meaning either cooks or butchers, of whom he was the chief; or rather executioners, he having the charge of prisoners, and the care of executing them, like our sheriffs. Joseph was a most eminent type of Christ, and there are so many things in this chapter which show an agreement between them that cannot be passed over. Joseph was the son of his father's old age, Christ the son of the Ancient of days; Joseph was in a peculiar manner beloved by his father, Christ is the dear son of his Father's love; Jacob made for Joseph a coat of many colours, God prepared a body in human nature for Christ, filled and adorned with the various gifts and graces of the Spirit without measure. Joseph was hated by his brethren, and they could not endure to think he should have the dominion over them. The Jews, of whom Christ was according to the flesh, hated him, and would not have him to reign over them; Joseph was sent by his father a long journey to visit his brethren, and know the welfare of them and their flocks, Christ was sent from heaven to earth to seek and save the lost sheep of the house of Israel; Joseph's brethren, when they saw him come to them, conspired to take away his life, the Jews, who were Christ's own, when he came to them, received him not, but said, this is the heir, let us kill him, and they consulted to take away his life; Joseph was stripped of his clothes, and sold for twenty pieces of silver at the motion of Judah, and Christ, by one of the same name, was sold for thirty pieces of silver, and was stripped of his clothes by the Roman soldiers; Joseph was delivered into the hands of foreigners, and Christ into the hands of the Gentiles; Joseph being reckoned as dead by his father, and yet alive, may be herein an emblem of Christ's death, and his resurrection from the dead.

(h) Sept. "principi coquorum", Cartwright; so Josephus, "principi lanionum", Pagninus, Montanus, "capitalium rerum praefecto", Tigurine version.

And the Midianites sold him into Egypt unto Potiphar, an {l} officer of Pharaoh's, and captain of the guard.

(l) Or eunuch, which does not always signify a man that is gelded, but also someone that is in some high position.

36. Midianites] Heb. Medanites. This verse, from E, resumes the narrative from Genesis 37:29-30.

Potiphar] An Egyptian name, denoting “the gift of Ra,” the sun-god. It appears as “Potiphera,” Genesis 41:45, Genesis 46:20. LXX Πετεφρῆς, Lat. Putiphar, reproducing the Egyptian Pedephrç = “he whom the sun-god gives.”

officer] Lit. “eunuch.” Probably a word used to denote an official about the court. Heb. saris, LXX σπάδων, Lat. eunuchus. Some Assyriologists prefer the derivation from ša rêši = “he who is the head.” But there seems to be no sufficient reason to call in question the meaning which the word has in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic. The class to which the saris belonged has always infested Oriental courts, and the name was therefore likely to acquire a general significance as “a court official.” Cf. 2 Kings 18:17 (Rab-saris); Jeremiah 39:3; Jeremiah 39:13; Daniel 1:3.

Pharaoh] i.e. the king of Egypt. The title, but not the personal name, of the sovereign: see note on Genesis 12:15.

captain of the guard] Heb. chief of the executioners, and, as such, having charge of the prisoners (Genesis 40:3-4, Genesis 41:12). Cf. “captain of the guard,” 2 Kings 25:8; Jeremiah 39:9; Jeremiah 41:10; Jeremiah 43:6; Jeremiah 52:12; Daniel 2:14. Another very possible rendering is “chief of the butchers” (cf. Genesis 40:2, “chief of the bakers”), the officer over the men who killed the animals for the food of the king’s house, and one of the principal officials in an ancient court. The Heb. word in the sing. is “cook” in 1 Samuel 9:23-24, i.e. the man who killed the animal for food and cooked it.

If so, the rendering of the LXX ἀρχιμάγειρος, “head cook,” “head of the kitchen department,” is nearer the truth than that of the Lat. magister militum.Verse 36. - And the Midianites - or Medanites, descendants of Medan, a brother of Midian, both of whom were sons of Abraham by Keturah (Genesis 25:2). That the Arabian merchants are called Ishmaelites (ver. 27), Midianites (ver. 28), and Medanites (ver. 36), is explained as an evidence of varying legends (Tuch, Bleek, Davidson, Colenso), but is better accounted for as indicating that the traders were composed of men of various nations (Clericus); that the Midianites, Ishmaelites, and Medanites were often confounded from their common parentage and closely similar habits (Keil); that the narrator did not intend to lay stress upon the nationality, but upon the occupation, of the travelers (Havernick); that the proprietors of the caravan were Ishmaelites, and the company attending it Midianites or Medanites (Lange); that the Ishmaelites were the genus, and the Midianites and Medanites the species, of the same nation (Rosenmüller, Quarry); that the Midianites or Medanites were the actual purchasers of Joseph, while the caravan took its name from the Ishmaelites, who formed the larger portion of it (Murphy) - sold him into Egypt (i.e. having brought him into Egypt, perhaps, as Luther conjectures, passing through Hebron on the way, sold him) unto Potiphar, - the name is abbreviated from Poti-Phera (Genesis 41:50), i.e. he who belongs to the sun (Gesenius, sub voce). The LXX. render Πετεφρής or Πετεφρῆ - an officer - סָרִיס, from סָרַס, an unused root signifying to pull up by the roots, originally means a eunuch (Isaiah 56:3, 4), such as Oriental monarchs were accustomed to set over their harems (Esther 2:3, 14, 15; Esther 4:5), but is here employed to denote an officer or courtier generally, without any reference to the primary signification, since Potiphar was married - of Pharaoh's (vide Genesis 12:15), and captain of the guard - literally, captain of the slaughterers, i.e. chief officer of the executioners, the nature of whoso duties may be understood from the fact that he was keeper of the State prison, "where the king's prisoners were bound" (Genesis 39:20).

The business was settled in Reuben's absence; probably because his brethren suspected that he intended to rescue Joseph. When he came to the pit and found Joseph gone, he rent his clothes (a sign of intense grief on the part of the natural man) and exclaimed: "The boy is no more, and I, whither shall I go!" - how shall I account to his father for his disappearance! But the brothers were at no loss; they dipped Joseph's coat in the blood of a goat and sent it to his father, with the message, "We have found this; see whether it is thy son's coat or not." Jacob recognised the coat at once, and mourned bitterly in mourning clothes (שׂק) for his son, whom he supposed to have been devoured and destroyed by a wild beast (טרף טרף inf. abs. of Kal before Pual, as an indication of undoubted certainty), and refused all comfort from his children, saying, "No (כּי immo, elliptical: Do not attempt to comfort me, for) I will go down mourning into Sheol to my son." Sheol denotes the place where departed souls are gathered after death; it is an infinitive form from שׁאל to demand, the demanding, applied to the place which inexorably summons all men into its shade (cf. Proverbs 30:15-16; Isaiah 5:14; Habakkuk 2:5). How should his sons comfort him, when they were obliged to cover their wickedness with the sin of lying and hypocrisy, and when even Reuben, although at first beside himself at the failure of his plan, had not courage enough to disclose his brothers' crime?
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