Chapter xxxvii
10. History of Jacob (chapters 37-50)

This portion of the book of Genesis is, without doubt, the most interesting and dramatic of the entire book. The author's skill as a narrator is throughout displayed to excellent advantage. A part of the interest of the narrative lies in the greater wealth of detail. If the author employed available sources, as it seems most likely that he did, his source material, apparently, was more copious the farther he advanced in these early histories. But on the other hand, it seems equally true that the nearer he gets to the events of his own day, the more would his readers desire full information. Moses is now writing history that involves the fathers of the twelve tribes. There is much in this history that the tribes themselves should be acquainted with for their comfort and their admonition.

But when we say that the dramatic element begins to predominate more in the narrative, we do not imply that the author injected it. Truth still is stranger than fiction. It was not the author's skill that rendered these tales dramatic. These things actually transpired as they were narrated. The drama involved is practically nothing other than the unusual display of divine providence, which shines forth more brilliantly here than perhaps anywhere else in sacred history. Step for step God's providence watched over the chosen race as it was about to go into the depths of national enslavement. One element of encouragement for these trying days was to be the remembrance of the signal tokens of divine grace experienced shortly before.

One very noticeable feature of this "history (toledôth) of Jacob" is the predominance of Joseph practically throughout the entire section. Yet for all that, though he is the mainspring of the movement of the history, Jacob is still the dominant character. We remind of this, for though Joseph is prominent, he is not to be estimated too highly. God never appeared to him as he did to his father Jacob, or to Isaac and to Abraham. Joseph dare not be ranked higher on the level of faith than his forefathers. It is a case of misplaced emphasis to say that "the hero himself is idealized as no other patriarchal personality is -- (Joseph) is the ideal son, the ideal brother, the ideal servant, the ideal administrator." In contact with non-Israelites Joseph surely achieved remarkable prominence, but for the inner, spiritual history of the kingdom of God he does not come up to the level of his fathers.

There is another feature of his life which is rather striking and demands closer attention. In a more distinct way than in the lives of his fathers Joseph stands out as a type of Christ. Abraham exemplifies the Father's love who gave up His only-begotten Son. Isaac passively typifies the Son who suffers Himself to be offered up. But in Joseph's case a wealth of suggestive parallels come to the surface upon closer study. Though these parallels are not stamped as typical by the New Testament, there can hardly be any doubt as to their validity. For as Joseph is a righteous man and in this capacity is strongly antagonized and made to suffer for righteousness' sake but finally triumphs over all iniquity, so the truly Righteous One, the Saviour of men, experiences the same things in an intensified degree.

Lange lists the details of this type in a very excellent summary. He mentions as prefiguring what transpired in the life of the great Antitype, Jesus Christ, the following: "the envy and hatred of the brethren against Joseph and the fact that he is sold; the realization of Joseph's prophetic dreams by the very fact that his brethren seek to prevent his exaltation by destroying him; the fact that the malicious plot of the brethren results in the salvation of many, however, in a very particular sense for the brethren and for Jacob's house; the judgment of the Spirit upon the treachery of the brethren and the victory of forgiving love; Judah's surety for Benjamin and his rivalry with Joseph in the spirit of self-sacrifice; the revival of Jacob in his joy over the fact that the son long deemed dead was alive and eminently successful."

This angle of the case is beautifully supplemented by Pascal (Pensées, quoted by Delitzsch): "Jesus Christ is prefigured by Joseph: the beloved of his father, sent by the father to his brethren, the innocent one sold by his brethren for twenty pieces of silver and so made their lord, their saviour and the saviour of strangers and the saviour of the world; all of which would not have happened if they had not had the purpose to destroy him, if they had not sold and rejected him. In prison Joseph the innocent one between two malefactors -- Jesus on the cross between two evildoers: Joseph predicts good fortune to the one and death to the other; though both appear alike -- Jesus saves the one and leaves the other in his just condemnation, though both stood charged with the same crime. Joseph begs of the one who is to be delivered to remember him when he is restored to honour, and he whom Jesus saves asks to be remembered when He comes in His kingdom." The ways of divine providence could hardly be stranger, and God's guiding hand in history is marvelously displayed to the eyes of faith.

1. And Jacob dwelt in the land of the sojournings of his father, in the land of Canaan.

This verse is plainly a transition verse and at the same time it constitutes a contrast to the preceding chapter. In every preceding instance the words 'elleh toledoth, which open v.2, have stood at the head of each of the preceding nine major divisions of Genesis. Consequently, v.1 cannot be brought in as an introductory verse to this toledôth or "history." It does, however, remind us that as Esau (chapter 36) settled in the land of Seir, so Jacob after the separation of the brethren continued in the ancestral territory, a sojourner, where his father had sojourned. Nothing was more natural than that he, who continued the line of promise according to God's choice, should also settle in the land of promise. By this word, furthermore, it is indicated that Jacob had actually left the land east of the Jordan, where he had first stayed after his return from Mesopotamia, and had come to the land west of Jordan, which alone ranks as the land of Isaac's sojourning -- and for that matter to the southern part of this land, where Isaac had been found, namely the vicinity of Hebron, Beersheba and the region toward the west, bordering on the Philistine land. Isaac, though his death was reported proleptically Ge 35:29 continued to live for perhaps another twelve years and so shared in Jacob's grief over Joseph. But at this point Jacob supersedes Isaac and begins to carry on the history of the chosen race.

(1) Joseph sold into Egypt (37:2-36)

2. This is the history of Jacob. Joseph at the age of seventeen years was doing a shepherd's work among the flocks together with his brethren, and in fact he was a servant together with the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, the wives of his father; and he brought the report about them, which was evil, to their father.

Strictly speaking, the caption, "History of Jacob," that is set down as a heading for the chapter, should appear after v.1 with the subhead that we have set above v.2. In any case, it is the author's own title and so at the same time an indication of the beginning of the last subdivision (compare remarks on Ge 2:4). Consequently, to label this section, "The Story of Joseph," (Meek) indicates complete disregard of the authors's mode of treatment of this section and labels his point of view as trivial or unimportant. One reason why critics so consistently ignore Moses' own divisions of the book seems to be, because to let the author's plan or outline emerge clearly would display what they deny -- the manifest unity of the entire book.

True, from our point of view, it may seem strange to begin Jacob's history with details about Joseph's experiences. But does not the father's life express itself in his sons? First we are told Joseph's age at the time under consideration: he was seventeen years old. Next we are informed as to his occupation: "he was doing a shepherd's work" -- ro'eh; literally: "he was shepherding." He was not with the cattle but "among the flocks," tso'n -Kleinvieh. In this work he stood on the same level as his brothers who shared the work with him. The next "and" (we), as is frequently the case, offers more specific details, as we should say, "and in fact" (und zwar). He had not yet advanced to the point of being a master shepherd; he was merely "a servant" (na'ar commonly bears this meaning -- see B D B, p.655, 2a). The following phrase "with the sons," etc., would seem to indicate that these brothers of his perhaps were also still learning how to be competent shepherds. "The sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah" are his companions because in point of age they stand nearest to Joseph, hardly because of Joseph's humility in associating with those who were less proud than the sons of the regular wife, Leah. For sons of concubines ranked but slightly inferior in social standing. Joseph was associated with just these brethren more by virtue of his father's choice than by his own. Bilhah's sons were Dan and Naphtali (Ge 30:6-7); Zilpah's, Gad and Asher (Ge 30:9-13).

"The report about them" (dibbatham -- with object suffix as a kind of objective genitive -- "their report" -- from a root analogous to the Arabic signifying "to flow along slowly," "to glide along") Joseph brought to his father. Not his own observations so much as what others said. No doubt Joseph recognized on the strength of what he saw that this report was the truth. In any case, the report was "evil." Joseph's motive in conveying this report seems to have been good. He was the one son who had spiritual kinship with his father. He had nobler ideals than did his brothers. He felt that it behoved Jacob to know these reports. But Joseph hardly did wisely in telling what his brothers were said to do. It seems quite likely that a trace of spiritual pride tainted what may otherwise have been prompted by a good motive. For a youth to know himself better than his brothers and not to feel a measure of selfexaltation is hardly thinkable.

3, 4. Now Israel had come to love Joseph most of all his sons, because he was the son of his old age and he made him a long-sleeved cloak. But his brethren observed that their father loved him more than all his brethren and they hated him and were not able to speak peacefully with him.

The perfect 'ahabh must express something that has come to a conclusion; consequently, "he had come to love" as a result of contact over many years -- rather than just simply he loved. "Israel" stands first for emphasis to indicate how he stood related to the brothers between whom a tension was growing. The primary reason assigned for Jacob's preference of Joseph is "he was the son of his old age" (zequnîm, plural of condition, to mark the various aspects involved in such a situation). It is commonly to be observed that children of old age enjoy preference and are pets. Here other factors contributed to make this preference more pronounced. The whole narrative indicates that not one of the sons came as near to the father's spiritual stature as Joseph did. The outward distinction which the father bestows upon this son is "a long-sleeved cloak," kethóneth passim. The kethóneth is the undergarment or tunic, which usually was sleeveless -- a thing of about knee-length. But passim means "ankles" or "wrists." Consequently, this tunic was sleeved and extended to the ankles. It was not, therefore, a garment adapted to work but suitable to distinguish a superior, or an overseer. By this very garment the father expressed his thought that this son should have pre-eminence over the rest. For Reuben had sacrificed his claim by incest. Simeon and Levi were poor candidates for leaders because of their headstrong cruelty. Besides, the converted we'asah means rather "he used to make" -- when one such cloak was worn out the father furnished another. Such distinction by the father was hardly wise. Luther's translation bunter Rock (like the A. V.'s "a coat of many colours") was a shrewd guess on the translator's part who confessed: "I confess freely that I do not know what the term means." But he surmised that the father wished to designate the son as a ruler and used bunter Rock because the garments Of the ruling classes were more brilliant in colour in his day.

4. This ill-advised distinction bestowed upon this young brother moved the others to actual hatred. They would hardly ask the question, Does he deserve this preference? but would be stirred by the petty jealousies characteristic of those of one family. Besides, Joseph's dreams created additional antipathy. This verse describes the situation after it had developed to the point where they were no longer "able to speak peaceably with him." In dabberô the direct pronominal object had taken the place of a dative object, like our "bespeak him" in place of "speak to him" (K. S.22). In leshalom le is dative of norm (K. S.332 q): "according to peace." This translation is to be preferred to the one which renders "greet him,'" because the latter calls for the verb sha'al rather than for dabhar.

5-8. And Joseph dreamed a dream and told it to his brethren with the result that they hated him still more. For he said to them: Do hear this dream that I dreamed. Look, we were binding sheaves in the midst of the field, and, look, my sheaf rose up, and even remained standing, and, look, your sheaves gathered around it and made obeisance to my sheaf. And his brothers said to him: Dost thou really expect to be king over us? or dost thou at least expect to rule over us? And they hated him still more for his dreams and for his words.

The narrative shows how the hatred already engendered was fanned to a brighter flame by successive events. Joseph's dream need not be regarded as divinely inspired. Nothing shows that it originated in any other way than do other dreams. It may have in part grown out of the ambitious thoughts of the young shepherd. It certainly was divinely controlled so as to express what afterward actually transpired. It need not be thought of as involving a reference to Joseph's work as grain regulator. For binding sheaves is work that stands far removed from grain conservation. Besides, it is not a prophetic dream such as prophets have. The Lord was not informing Joseph concerning things that would come to pass, yet God so controlled the dream that later it was seen to be in conformity with fact. The expression, "they hated him still more," involves the familiar Hebrew idiom: "they added still to hate him" -- the chief verb in Hebrew being actually rendered as an adverb in English. An instance of hasty inference and unwarranted critical alteration of the text appears in the striking out of 5b after the example of the Septuagint. It is claimed by Procksch to be premature because "he has not as yet said a thing." But does not 5a ("he told it") cover in a summary form what Joseph said; and cannot the result of such telling be reported before the dream is told?

6. "And he said" (wayyo'mer) must mean "for he said" or "namely he said," for the details of the dream mentioned in v.5 are to be given. The opening statement shows the eager interest or the enthusiasm the dream had roused in the lad's heart, who well saw what the dream implied. In his enthusiasm Joseph begins: "Do hear (shim'ûna' -- literally: hear, pray') this dream that I dreamed."

7. Three times hinneh, "behold," occurs in the sentence. We have rendered it "look." The word betokens not so much surprise as eager interest. Joseph none too wisely grows quite enthusiastic over the prospect of rising above his brethren. The dream involves a situation common enough in the family life of those days. In harvest time all able-bodied men were in the field. Though partly nomadic in its habits, Jacob's family was also partly agricultural, as was Isaac's (cf. Ge 26:12). But, for that matter, such groups are found in Palestine to this day, partly nomadic and partly agricultural in their pursuits. Criticism here, as usually, misconstrues the statements in favour of two different viewpoints originating from two distinct sources.

Now what happened in the dream was simply this: the sheaves that had been tied lay about in the field as usual. Perhaps all brothers had started binding simultaneously. Each had just tied a sheaf when Joseph's rose up and also "remained standing" (nitsabh -- Nifal from yatsabh). Then the sheaves of the others gathered around this one and "made obeisance" -- a verb used of any token of respect to a superior.

8. The meaning of the dream was so very transparent that the brothers catch its import at once. The construction which reinforces the verb with the absolute infinitive (malokh timlokh and mashol timshol) in this case is expressive of their indignation. Literally they say: "Being king wilt thou be king?" and "ruling wilt thou rule?" We feel that the translation: "Dost thou really expect to be king over us? or dost thou at least expect to rule over us?" just about reproduces these sentiments of theirs. The "at least" that we have inserted in the second member of the question grows out of the fact that from "being king" to "ruling" the idea is stepped down very noticeably.

In v.7 the hinneh with the perfect qamah merely makes the statement vivid (K. S.131). Hinneh, with the imperfect tesubbénah makes a historical present, marking the act as not brought to a conclusion (K. S.158).

Though Joseph has had only one dream according to this report up to this time, yet (v.8, conclusion) they hated him "for his dreams" (plural). This construction apparently involves a kind of generalization: because he was dealing in such things as dreams (K. S.264 c).

9-11. And he again dreamed a dream and told it to his brethren, and he said: Look, I have again dreamed a dream; and, look, the sun and the moon and eleven stars were making obeisance to me. And he told it to his father as well as to his brethren. And his father sharply rebuked him and said to him: What dream is this that thou hast had? Shall we indeed come -- I and thy mother and thy brethren -- to make obeisance to the earth before thee? And his brothers were envious of him, but his father bore the thing in mind.

The Hebrew uses an expression which we would deem redundant when it says: "he again dreamed another dream." To us this would seem to indicate a third dream. The Hebrew regards it as a strong expression that the dream was actually another one. Caution and discretion should have taught Joseph to keep silence about this dream in the presence of his brethren, for he must have noticed how the former dream had displeased them. This indiscretion gives us cause to think that a secret pride possessed Joseph. The double hinneh ("look") used in the telling of it shows how the thought suggested by the dream personally pleased Joseph. The dream as such is typically a dream: impossible things are happening. How else but in a dream could luminaries make obeisance? The participle mishtachawîm is durative -- "they were making obeisance," that is, they were doing it repeatedly.

10. Since this verse translated literally begins: "and he told it is his father and his brethren," the second "and" before brethren must be a waw adaequationis (K. S.375 i) meaning "as well as," because we have already been told v.9 that he told it to his brethren. This way of stating the case implies that the previous dream had not been told his father. We then get the impression that the impression created by the second dream emboldened Joseph to venture to tell what in the first instance he had dreaded might incur the father's displeasure. The father could well sense that a secret pride and self-satisfaction prompted the telling and administered a deserved rebuke. Ga'ar means anschreien, "to scream at," and so, at least, he "sharply rebuked him." The father sees what the dream signifies. The numbers coincide so perfectly with Jacob's family. Therefore he interprets the luminaries to mean, "I and thy mother and thy brethren." The question quite naturally arises: how can the mother, though dead, make obeisance? The simplest answer is that though she was dead she lived in the memory of this son and the father. Besides, who would expect historical accuracy from a dream? Stranger incidents than this have figured in dreams. It is, therefore, unnecessary to say that "mother" must here refer to Leah, who had mothered Joseph since Rachel's death; or to one of the handmaids; or by synecdoche to Jacob and his family in whom Rachel lived.

11. To the hatred of v.8 jealousy or envy is now added. For this dream went beyond the former one. Previously Joseph's supremacy over his brethren was indicated. Now it is the supremacy over the entire family that is suggested. But Jacob, like Mary (Lu 2:19), bore the thing in mind. Strange things seemed to be foreshadowed by these remarkable dreams. In a measure they coincided with Jacob's own purposes, which he had intimated by the special cloak he had been providing for his favourite son. On the whole the folly of parental partiality is only too effectively portrayed.

The notion, advanced so positively by Jeremias and accepted as quite likely by such as Skinner, that the eleven stars are a mythical designation of the signs of the Zodiac is really too untenable to be regarded seriously. The signs of the zodiac are twelve. Eleven is not twelve. Very fanciful, too, are the explanations why one of the twelve is suppressed. Then, too, the signs of the zodiac are groups of stars, constellations. Our chapter speaks of single stars. The astral myth theory of patriarchal history is a subjective claim.

12-14. And his brethren went to shepherd the flock of their father in Shechem. And Israel said to Joseph: Do not thy brethren shepherd the flock in Shechem? Come, let me send thee to them. And he said to him: Here am I. And he said to him: Go now, look to the welfare of thy brethren and to the welfare of the flock, and report back to me. So he sent him forth from the valley of Hebron, and he went to Shechem.

It does seem a bit strange that Joseph's brethren should venture back to Shechem again after the events of chapter 34. Perhaps the fear of God (Ge 35:5) was still upon the place. Equally plausible is the explanation that these were bold men who sometimes courted danger. Or did these men wish to use the portion of ground their father owned there? (Joh 4:5). The points set in the Hebrew text over 'eth, the sign of the accusative, show that the Masoretes had misgivings about retaining the word. Yet we cannot see why.

13. Israel himself is not entirely at ease about the venture. The question asked of Joseph is a characteristic Hebrew way of making a positive assertion: he knows they are "shepherding" (ro'im, plural participle from ro'eh) the flock there. He desires to send Joseph because he knows he can (Lev 27:5). So this price fits well for Joseph who was seventeen. The average price of a slave of full physical maturity was thirty shekels (Ex 21:32). For the present a brief statement covers the ultimate destination to which Joseph was brought: it was Egypt. If the road we described before was followed, Joseph may have passed quite near to his father's house at Hebron. But of all this we know nothing.

29, 30. And Reuben returned to the cistern and, lo, Joseph was not in the cistern; and he rent his garments. And he returned to his brethren and said: The lad has disappeared; and as for me, whither shall I go?

The statement that Reuben "returned" (wayyßshobh) is sufficient indication that Reuben was absent at the time of the sale. Perhaps he had intentionaly gone away to allay suspicion as to his further purposes. It is just as likely that the other brothers purposely disposed of Joseph during the absence of the first-born, lest he again interfere. We can well imagine Reuben's consternation as he comes to the pit by himself with none of the others near and finds it empty. His grief expresses itself in the conventional fashion by the rending of the garment, seizing the inner garment, the tunic, at the neck and rending downwards a few inches. Thoroughly alarmed, he returns to the brethren with the cry, "the lad has disappeared," literally 'eynennu, i. e., "is not." Their lack of surprise will soon have made him aware of the fact that they themselves had disposed of him. His further cry, "as for me, whither shall I go?" shows his complete bewilderment. Shall he attempt a rescue? Shall he hasten home? Shall he call a rescue party? To translate: "And I, how can I go home" (Meek) is too specific a limitation.

31-34. And they took Joseph's cloak, and killed a goat and dipped the cloak in the blood. And they sent the long-sleeved cloak and had it brought to their father, and said: This we found; examine it whether it be thy son's cloak or not? And he examined it and said: It is my son's cloak. Some wild beast hath devoured him; Joseph has certainly been torn in pieces. And Jacob rent his robe and put sackcloth upon his loins and demeaned himself as a mourner for his son many days.

The brothers are resourceful. They seem to be planning at the same time to take revenge on their father for having preferred Joseph. Their resourcefulness lets the cloak be profusely stained with goat's blood. Their revenge thus prepares a cruel shock for the father. Had the father controlled his grief he might have found it suspicious that the cloak was not torn but only stained with blood. We translate wayyabhi'u "they had it brought" -- the third person plural may express an indefinite subject, rendered by a passive; for they certainly "sent" the cloak and did not bring it themselves. The message accompanying the cloak has a certain blunt brutality about it. They did not try to soften the blow.

33. Everything works out according to schedule: the father examines the cloak, arrives at the desired conclusion. In fact, he expresses his conviction more drastically than his sons, because of his greater grief: "Joseph has certainly been torn to pieces." Taroph -- pual -- is reinforced by a kal infinitive taraph (K. S.215 d; G. K.113 w). The sackcloth Jacob puts upon his loins was a very coarse garment -- if it deserved to be called a garment, being in the nature of old gunny sacks -- usually worn over the inner tunic. Jacob's greater grief displays itself more fully: Yith'abbel, a hithpael, should be rendered as a reflexive: "demeaned himself as a mourner."

35, 36. And all his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him, and he refused to let himself be comforted, and said: No, for I shall go down in grief to my son to Sheol. So his father bewailed him. But the Midianites sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, a eunuch of Pharaoh's, captain of the bodyguard.

The cruel device of the brothers succeeded too well. Jacob's grief proved excessive; he was simply inconsolable. Alarmed and prompted by a feeling of guilt, the sons without exception sought to administer comfort. How hard it must have been for them and how hypocritical it must have sounded to them! His daughters joined them in these efforts -- "daughters" including daughters-in-law and daughters born later than Dinah. But the grief was too deep; they had not realized how deep the love was. Jacob anticipates to die of his grief and so to go to where his son has gone, to the afterworld, i. e. "to Sheol," where all go after death. It is visualized as being below, as higher things are visualized as being above. Yet this does not warrant attributing to the Hebrews the conception that Sheol actually "lay beneath the surface of the earth," even though the verb yaradh ("go down") is used in reference to it. Still less tenable is the view that the conception of Sheol is derived from Babylonian sources. Israel and Babylonians both drew upon a fund of original tradition, which Israel retained uncontaminated.

36. For preliminary information we are apprised of the name and the official position of Joseph's master. "Potiphar" is traced (K. W.) to the Egyptian word signifying "he whom Ra (the sun god) gave," a typically Egyptian proper name. Though married, he is a saris, i. e. a eunuch. Besides, he is "captain of the bodyguard," sar hattabachim, i. e. "captain of the slaughterers."

On the chapter as a whole criticism claims that it offers some of the plainest proof of duality of sources, mostly J and E, with a slight admixture of P. The following supposed doublets are stressed: two dreams, or two occasions for the hatred of the brothers: the cloak and the dreams; the efforts at liberation by Reuben vs. those of Judah; Ishmaelites vs. Midianites, etc. Procksch, as usual, has two separate stories to which he gives two different titles, viz. a. the Sale of Joseph; b. the Treachery. In some instances radical changes of the text are made in order to secure the needed evidence. We believe our interpretation has shown the futility of these, misconstructions. Life is manysided. When the writer shows this manysidedness, he simply proves himself to be a shrewd observer. The fictitious writers of criticism, E, J, and P, are never able to see or to record more than one side of an event -- an unheardof narrowness!

To conceive of the narrative as a Hebrew version of the Tammuz legend is simply a farfetched vagary.


There are, no doubt, many points of view from which the preacher may approach this chapter. Lest it be overlooked, we should like to suggest first that method of treatment that lays emphasis on the providential factors -- Divine Providence in the Early Years of Joseph's Life. One must at the outset limit himself to the matter found in the chapter, because so many indications of providence occur throughout the rest of Joseph's life. In this chapter the following providential features stand out: the father's godly influence; the warning example of the wicked life of the brothers; the strong encouragement of the double dream; the sparing of Joseph's life when his brothers had determined his death; the selling into Egypt, the land of destiny for Joseph and for Israel. An entirely different approach to this chapter, or more specifically to the part v. Ge 37:1-28, would be the evaluation of Joseph as a Type of Christ. We have indicated above the major items involved. Again only those features could be treated which the text offers. Though v.1-28 be utilized, v. Ge 37:36 ought to be added, because it gives occasion to introduce the thought: "Out of Egypt have I called my Son."

chapter xxxvi
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